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 April and May, 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.  
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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