Each spring and running though early summer, the frogs and toads of the Finger Lakes Region come out of hibernation and begin their seasonal migration to ponds and wetlands for the purpose of breeding. Males arrive at the water’s edge first and begin calling to attract females. As the days warm and with each passing spring rain shower, the nights come alive with a chorus of frog songs, reminding us that winter is over, spring has arrived and summer is just around the corner.
“Wood frogs have even more lives than a cat because they croak every night”
There are eight frogs and one toad common to our region. Very early in spring, usually when there is still snow on the ground, wood frogs, which are tan to cinnamon with a distinctive dark brown robber’s mask, are the first to come out of hibernation. They emerge from underneath decaying logs and forest leaf litter and migrate to vernal ponds, fishless pools in the forest that dry up in the summer. As soon as they arrive, males begin croaking with a call that sounds very much like a duck quacking. Females arrive within days, responding to the courtship call. Unless there is a cold snap, breeding takes place and eggs are laid. Without lingering, wood frogs return to moist woodlands for the remainder of the year.
“Spring peepers and northern chorus frogs are rather happy because they eat everything that bugs them”
Our smallest frogs are the next to arrive at breeding ponds. Slightly over 1 inch long, spring peepers and northern chorus frogs are similar in appearance and have similar calls. Both are dark brown to tan, but peepers differ in that they have a dark “X” on their back and suction-like discs on their toes for climbing trees. They have mighty voices for such small creatures – a steady “peep-peep” in the case of peepers and a “prr-eep, prr-eep” for chorus frogs. Ear splitting choruses of these tiny frogs are heard throughout the region in April.
As spring rain showers continue to soak into the ground, two larger frogs that also look alike arrive at ponds and wetlands. Pickerel and leopard frogs both have dark markings on their backs between two long ridges. These markings are rounded on leopard frogs and square on pickerel frogs. Both frogs have snoring type calls, but in the case of leopard frogs the snore is interspersed with grunts – a sound my wife complains about nightly, regardless of the season.
The greater gray tree frog is the only large tree frog in our area. Equipped with large sticky toes to help them climb trees, they are often confused with toads because adults have warty bumps on their backs. Unlike toads, however, they have the ability to change their body color from green to gray to blend in with their surroundings. Males arrive at breeding ponds from late April to early May and call in females with a high-pitched trill. Gray tree frogs also sing during summer months, especially prior to thunderstorms or during humid conditions.
“Did you hear that the New York Yankees are recruiting American toads because, unlike some players with multimillion-dollar contracts, toads are great at catching flies”
My favorite amphibian (frogs, toads and salamanders) is the American toad. Toads have pudgy bodies with small bumps or warts, and they often look like they are half asleep. Don’t let that fool you; they are excellent at catching destructive insects and garden pests such as slugs and cut worms. The call of a male toad is a melodious trill that can last up to 30 seconds. The male American toad has a breeding drive that is quite exceptional.
Not to be outdone, female toads are extremely prolific – one female can lay as many as 25,000 eggs. No other four-footed creature lays more eggs.
Our most aquatic and largest frogs, green frogs and bullfrogs, are the last to emerge from hibernation. Both are green to brownish in color and have courtship calls that sound alike. The song of a green frog is a repeated “plunk-plunk-plunk,” “Strummin’ on the ole banjo,” my granddaughter says. The bullfrog’s call is a guttural and repeated “jug-o-rum.” Bullfrogs can grow up to 7 inches long and are voracious predators, consuming mice, ducklings, snakes and other frogs. You get the point – just about anything.
“Unfortunately frogs, like humans, have been impacted by the difficult economic times because this spring I’m hearing their sad chorus: “Bar-oke, Bar-oke, Bar-oke.”
Even though frogs have been the subject of countless lame jokes, some recent scientific studies have suggested that frog and toad populations may be declining throughout the world with no clear or single explanation. Historically, misinformation about amphibians is widespread – no, you can’t get warts from a toad.
However, there is little scientific information about the population of each species. The World Conservation Union declared 2008 The Year of the Frog, and the U.S. Geological Survey and National Wildlife Federation are now beginning to gather information on the status of frogs and toads by initiating Frog Watch USA. To learn more and to participate go to www.nwf.org/frogwatchusa.
by Bill Banaszewski