Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche
By Ranger Steve Mueller
The long winter wait is over. Up from the mud thousands of frogs are making an appearance. They broadcast for a few weeks and then seem to disappear. Those of us that cling to youth activities of getting wet and muddy will be able to enjoy slippery slimy amphibians until October.
Frogs live unique lives in places that intrigue many of us. Part of their life is spent fishlike. They breathe with gills and swim with tails. Then an awkward transition from youth to adulthood begins. Stubby legs grow and the tail withers. Lungs develop and gills disappear. The tadpole frogs eat algae bacteria and organic matter but change to a carnivore diet with age.
I have not searched my 34 journal volumes thoroughly for beginning dates for the annual spring chorus. My impression is the wood frogs begin singing before other frogs. As soon as ice begins to melt by the shore of vernal pools and temperature reaches about 40 F, the wood frogs start singing. Soon after western chorus frogs and spring peepers sing.
Looking at some of my data, I noted the wood, chorus, and spring peepers began singing on the same date. When it was different the wood frog sang first except for one year when the chorus frog sang first.
The wood frogs sound like a bunch of ducks quacking. Chorus frogs make a sound similar to that of rubbing a thumb across the teeth of comb. Spring peepers simply repeat a single peep. Thousands of peepers are deafening. If you approach a small pond, singing frogs quiet. Sit and wait a few minutes and one will start. Others quickly follow. Soon your ears will physically hurt from the massive volume. Cup your hands behind your ears if you dare. The volume will be more than you can tolerate for long. Then cup your hands in reverse in front of your ears. It is amazing how much the sound is reduced.
Gray tree frogs make a trilling sound but not until temperatures are a bit warmer. The first three species are anxious to call mates when temperatures are about 40 F.
As spring progresses other frogs join the singing and wood frogs are the first to cease singing. Leopard and Pickerel frog populations seem to be declining rapidly. When temperatures are about 70 F, Green frogs join the songfest. American toads are about the last to start but continue well into summer. If lucky, you might hear the croak of a bullfrog. The green frog sounds like someone plucking a guitar or banjo string. The bullfrog sound resembles a bull or cow bellow. The American toad has a most distinctive trill call that seems to continue endlessly. It may only last 30 seconds but that is a long call.
Those mentioned are the most encountered frogs in our area. To help them survive, protect small wet pools that last only through spring to early summer. This is where most frogs reproduce. Fish are not present to eat the eggs and young in temporary pools that only last several weeks. Some larger frogs like green and bullfrogs require permanent water because the young take two years to grow up.
Many frogs head to the woods and gardens for the summer. American toads dig holes in my garden and under some rocks. At night they find it to be a great restaurant. Avoid insecticides in the garden because they kill amphibians and other desirable wildlife. Gray tree frogs tuck themselves into the vinyl siding corners during the day and come out to eat insects at night. We love their reverberating trill during the night.
Michigan DNR requests help documenting the occurrence and abundance of frogs. This is the 18th year of the annual statewide Frog and Toad Survey. Those interested in helping survey are asked to contact SargentL@michigan.gov or 517-373-9418, and to leave your name and address.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.