Jeff Green | Apr 23, 2009
Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'lakes - April 23, 2009 Spring Peepersby Lorraine Julien
While driving home past a small lake one early evening recently, I heard the first chorus of Spring Peepers announcing that spring is definitely here! Even with the car windows up, the shrill trilling music is unmistakable. This is Mother Nature’s version of “surround sound”.
The official name for Spring Peepers is Pseudacris Crucifer (crucifer referring to the Latin word cruci or crux meaning “it carries a crosslike marking on its back”).
If you are lucky enough to spot one, it is usually a tan, greenish-brown or gray colour with a dark X on its back and dark bands on the legs. The underside is whitish. These tiny little frogs only measure up to 1¼ inches across – so small that one could sit on a loonie.
Spring Peepers are one of the first frogs to sing in the spring although Chorus frogs may join in now and then, though their vocals sound more like a finger being run along the teeth of a comb.
The Peepers (along with other species of frogs) are awakened, as a group, by the thawing of the earth as they lie in their winter beds under a thick layer of leaves or soil. Usually they begin to stir on warm, rainy spring nights. Even when there are still a few patches of snow and ice on the edges of their ponds, they are not deterred – they just slip under the ice and, either float freely or hang onto a leaf or other floating debris.
By mid-April the males stake out their positions around the ponds (or puddles) singing their little hearts out trying to entice the girl peepers. It may take a few days of this intense singing but eventually the females are attracted to certain males. Apparently the males with the best voices attract the most females although with thousands all singing at once, it must be difficult to single out that one attractive voice!
Early mating in spring allows their tadpoles to mature before the heat of summer dries up some of the puddles and ponds. The only problem with this is that they may encounter a late spring freeze. Once the babies are mature, they spread out over the land eating insects by night and resting during the heat of the day. Sexual maturity isn’t reached until they’re about 3 - 4 years old.
As long as the weather is warm and/or damp, the cacophony of sound continues. If the weather turns cool, the singing temporarily stops until the next warm spell. By late May, the singing stops altogether except for the odd loud mouth. It’s no coincidence that these tiny frogs awaken just as the season’s first bugs begin to appear. On the same night that we first heard the peepers, our windshield was covered with bugs, also just awakening.
You’d wonder how such a tiny creature could make so much noise but, apparently, in relation to its size, the Spring Peeper is the loudest animal on earth! The male has a special sac on his throat that enables him to sing. Using the sac, the male squeezes air over his vocal cords and then amplifies the sound by inflating his throat into a balloon-like bubble producing a sound that can carry for almost two kilometers. Only the male has this sac.
These tiny frogs are one of 630 species of tree frog worldwide or one of three species in Ontario. Like other tree frogs, they have the usual sticky little pads on their feet, which enable them to climb vertically though they seldom venture more than a few feet from the ground, preferring to hide in low shrubbery.
Remember these little insect-eating fellows if you decide to alter the waterfront area of your property - Peeper habitat. They love to rest in shady spots near the water’s edge during the day.