The Heart of New England

Mud season!  These two words are enough to put looks of disgust on even the
most seasoned New Englander’s face. Visions of vehicles stuck up to their
hubcaps on oozy back roads, driveways turned to quicksand and melting, dirty
snow are what come to most people’s minds when they think of that
unglamorous time of year -- not quite winter, not quite spring.

But for those of us who get “burned out” on winter sports by March and who
can’t wait to get their peas and spinach planted, mud season is a glorious time
of year.

The first warm days that bring on the muddy mess also bring the promise of
new life and days spent outside unencumbered by hats, coats, long underwear
and boots.

But, probably the biggest reason to celebrate mud season is a tiny, seldom
seen, but often heard frog -- the spring peeper!

As days begin to warm in March and April, spring peepers emerge from under
the leaf litter and logs where they spent the winter and head for breeding ponds
and marshes.

Barely an inch in length and well camouflaged in their wetland habitats, as
mentioned before, spring peepers are more often heard than seen. You’ll know
you’ve found one if you come across a small frog (males are less than an inch
long, females up to an inch and a quarter), with tan to dark brown skin, round
suction disks on the toes and a distinctive X-shaped pattern on the back.

Peeping to Find a Mate

While they can be nearly impossible to find during the quiet non-breeding
season, they readily advertise their presence in the springtime as they
congregate in marshes, swamps and wet meadows and begin “peeping.”

Males produce a loud, high-pitched whistle or peep which is repeated roughly
once per second from dusk to dawn -- as many as 4,500 times per night!

This major vocal effort is undertaken in an attempt to defend a small territory
(only four to sixteen inches square) and to attract a mate. Female frogs seem to
be attracted to the older males who tend to call faster.

Once a female has chosen a male, she moves into his territory and touches him.
The male then clasps the female from behind with his front legs and remains
attached to her, fertilizing her eggs as she swims around depositing them singly
or in small groups on underwater plants.

A single tiny female lays up to 800 eggs. Once done laying, the female leaves
the breeding pool while the male resumes peeping in the hopes of attracting
another mate.

The tiny tadpoles that hatch from the eggs are a tremendous food source for
insects, fish, turtles, birds, snakes and salamanders. In about two months, those
that survive this gauntlet of predators emerge from the pond as tiny froglets and
head for moist woods and meadows, many still sporting their tails, where they
can find insects and spiders to eat.

How to Find these Tiny Frogs

Although it might seem an easy task to find a calling male, when hundreds of
frogs are chorusing at the same time, it can be extremely confusing -- not to
mention ear-splitting!

It’s best to go peeper-hunting with a friend or two and use a search method
called triangulation. Standing about 3 feet apart, each person tunes in on the
same pepper call and tries to determine where it’s coming from. On the count of
three, each person shines their flashlight on the spot where they think the
peeper is. Wherever two or more flashlight beams cross is a good place to start
looking.

Spring wouldn’t be the same without the chirps and peeps of these tiny frogs.
By protecting the wet meadows, marshes and ponds they need for breeding, we
humans can insure there will always be plenty of peepers brightening up an
otherwise wet and muddy time of year.

About the author: Brenda Erler is a naturalist at the Squam Lakes Natural Science
Center.  For more wildlife facts and information plan a visit to the
Squam Lakes Natural
Science Center.  
Northern Spring Peeper -- Photo Courtesy of eNature.com
Bright Spots in an Otherwise
Muddy Season
By Brenda Erler
The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont

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