We hear them every spring when there still is some ice on the pond. As ice melts away, the chorus intensifies. We know the sounds are made by frogs but where are they? Researching our many resources on amphibians, we deduce noises we heard are Spring Peepers. Our CD of all frog and toad calls in Michigan helps us identify the Spring Peepers voice from seven frogs and two toads found in our part of Michigan. We decided to take a walk around the pond in the evening to find a peeper, but struck out on making any observation of this elusive frog. Not giving up easily we develop a plan that will involve the entire family. Around ten o’clock one night we called the crew together for an orientation meeting. Sherman Marie and our two cats Peanut and Peabody all wanted in on the hunt. We explained that we would be looking for Spring Peepers. This little frog is about the size of a quarter (3/4 – 1 1/4 inch) and brownish in color (kind of like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack around our pond). It is nice to be able to walk around our pond at night without the worries of lurking Water Moccasins that reside in Virginia. The five of us stood by the edge of our pond and listened carefully to pinpoint approximate locations of peeping sounds. Then we set off with two small flashlights to inspect trees, brush and pond edges in these locations. Our prospects were not looking good after scanning several spots for the little fellow. Then Wes motioned for us to come over to a brush pile he was studying. There on a branch in the pile sat a little Spring Peeper. His thin membranous air sac filled like a balloon under his chin. He let out a series of manly “peeps” to attract any females nearby. Imagine his surprise when he saw Wes, Cyndi, Sherman Marie, Peabody and Peanut staring at him. He waited patiently while we snapped a few pictures and then we went our separate ways. Naturalists claim that while most people will hear a Spring Peeper during their lifetime, very few will ever see one. True, very few people would consider it worth the trouble to search for a one-inch frog and this little amphibian is purposefully secretive. It is a little easier to become an amphibian expert in Michigan than it is in many parts of the world; since there are 4000 species of frogs and toads in the world, and only 4 species of tree frogs (Hyla genus), 5 species of true frogs (Rana genus) and 1 species of toad; American toad (Bufo americanus) in our area of Michigan. This is certainly a digestible amount of information to retain. Last week we enjoyed the massive migration of birds as they traveled halfway across our great country and on into Canada. Frogs and toads migrate too but usually travel only a couple hundred yards. While this may seem like an insignificant distance it has proven beneficial to their survival. Frogs migrate back to the place of their birth to mate and lay eggs. This makes sense because if they survived as tadpoles to mature into frogs then it was a good place to be born. After laying eggs or maturing from tadpole to frog, migration to areas with abundant food supplies is a good survival technique. Migration usually occurs at night, and can reach a fevered pitch on rainy nights. There is rainy summer nights in Virginia where frogs and toads migrating across a road were so numerous it looked like an advancing army. If one watches carefully as a vehicle passes through the migrating creatures all the little frogs stop hopping to hunker down close to the pavement. While this strategy works well for frogs not directly in the wheel path, and they continue on their migration after the car passes, the few that were directly in line with the tires are not so lucky. Frogs and toads in our area spend their winters like many humans in Gladwin County. They stay in this motionless state until warm weather returns. Lacking the comfort of a recliner next to the fireplace, Western Chorus Frogs and Gray Treefrogs simply get under leaves and logs. Amazingly, 40 to 70 percent of their bodies can freeze and the guys still survive. Toads are diggers and burrow into the ground below the frost line to survive the winter. Most of our frogs spend their winter on the bottom of a lake or pond in a depressed metabolic state. Frogs and toads can be found in great abundance in northern mid-Michigan. There is even a Green Frog (Rana clamitans) on the 2013 Clare/Gladwin CMD phone book. “Green frog” is not a description of his appearance; it is his common name. Green Frogs have large round flat discs on either side of their head. These are actually a large well-developed tympanum (ears). We have a Gray Treefrog in the maple tree by our swing and he talks to us each evening. The Reptile and Amphibians of Michigan Field Guide (with CD) can be purchased at the Gladwin Conservation District. There is even an annual Frog and Toad Survey carried out by DNR. Identifying frogs and toads by their calls is an enjoyable way to spend time around the evening bonfire; so hop to it.
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