Apr 1, 2009

The Spring Peepers are a Peepin'

They are tree frogs, but are usually found at ground level.  Their “peep” is deafening and sounds like sleigh bells - only louder.  In the northeast they are referred to as “pinkletinks” or “tinkletoes.”  To us though, they’re simply called Spring Peepers, and the Peepers are out in force.


Spring Peepers are the most widely distributed chorus frogs in Kentucky.  They are also one of our smallest frogs, about the size of a nickel.  Like all tree frogs, they have sticky round toe-pads they use to climb and cling to twigs and bark.  They have an irregular “X” on their back, hence their scientific name, Pseudacris crucifer.  They are generally light brown in color, though they do have color-changing abilities.  Depending on their surroundings, they can darken or lighten their skin color to resemble their background.

Their call is a welcome sound, as it’s a sure sign that spring has arrived.


Peepers are found in woodland pools and ponds, preferably without fish to prey on their eggs, tadpoles and adults.  Males gather in these small pools by the hundreds, or even thousands.  Their chorus begins the first warm evenings of the season, starting in late February into late summer.  Only the male frogs call, averaging a peep per second.  They usually call in trios, with the lowest-pitched male starting the competition.  Those that sing the loudest and fastest are most likely to attract mates.  These nocturnal amphibians can be heard loud and clear up to a half-mile away.


The reason they can call so loudly is because of large “vocal sacs” under their chins.  They pump these sacs full of air until they look like a balloon, and then discharge the air with a powerful “peep.”  The easiest way to see Peepers is to look for these shiny oversized sacs, which nearly double their size when inflated.


After mating Peepers lay up to 1,200 eggs in clumps attached to twigs and aquatic vegetation.  The eggs may hatch in only a few days or up to two weeks, depending on temperatures.  Within two to three months, young tadpoles are transformed into young frogs and leave the pond.  They then take to the woodlands where they serve the useful purpose of hunting insects.


Peepers hibernate on land.  Like all amphibians they are cold-blooded and their body temperatures change in accordance with outside temperatures.  When temperatures drop below freezing, body parts also freeze and actually form ice crystals.  Vital organs though, as heart and lungs, are protected by a natural anti-freeze (glucose) they produce in their livers.


A variety of animals prey on Spring Peepers, including snakes, skunks and even larger frogs.  However, nothing is more devastating to a pond full of Peepers than a pesticide or herbicide spray.  A single application of either can wipe out an entire pond population of these fascinating tree frogs.  These welcome harbingers of spring are way too cool to let that happen.


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