By Bob Lusk
Here’s a story you might not believe, but it’s true.
Spring is a great time of year around your waters. Nature begins its life cycles anew. There are fresh new smells and the air fills with new sounds as birds begin nesting and hunting. Here, at LL,2, I can close my eyes on any given day and hear many familiar sounds—wood ducks with their high pitched, cackling scream, the chatter of a Belted King Fisher as he protects his territory and lands on our zip line while he waits for a small fish to rise to the surface so he can catch it, and the shriek of a great blue heron as it flies from pond to pond in search of its daily morsels.
There are plenty of other sounds too, like the chirping of tree frogs. Oftentimes spring peepers start almost on cue every late afternoon. It seems like where there’s one peeper, there are hundreds. There are northern and southern varieties of peepers. If you’ve ever been around baby chickens, the sounds those chicks make are quite similar to the sound of peepers and other tree frogs. These tiny frogs are interesting. You’ll find them near ponds, but also in and around forests. We hear our little tree frogs mostly around stands of post oaks, low brush near the pond’s edge, and a small ephemeral stream that meanders through a corner of the property. They like marshy, wetland areas as well. On occasion, we’ll see one of these frogs with their sticky feet clinging to the outside of a bedroom window.
Biologically, peepers in the north will come out of their winter homes during a few of those warm winter “bluebird” days and begin to lay their eggs. The northern variety has an amazing ability to endure frigid temperatures and can tolerate some of its body fluids actually freezing. They tend to winter under logs, burrowed slightly into organic soils. I came across one last winter when I was cutting a dead tree for firewood. It was tucked behind some loose bark and fell on the ground as I cut up the tree. The little rascal could barely move.
The southern variety lives more from eastern Texas to Georgia and parts of Florida. The northern strain primarily lives east of the Mississippi River all the way to the middle of Canada.
A neat thing about peepers and tree frogs is they are carnivores and feed at night. They love spiders, beetles, and other insects. I watched one at dusk last year clinging to a small metal table. It ate two house flies in about three minutes. I would have given it a standing ovation if I weren’t so enthralled watching the little thing do what it did.
The most amazing thing about these little frogs is their voices. When one starts, it seems to trigger all the others, and the music is on.
Toads also chime into the chorus with their baritone trill. We’ll watch as a handful of toads make their way to any lighted area we have and just patiently await a nightly meal of whatever insects happen into that area. As long as our two cats leave them alone, toads will stay for months. In water, toad eggs look like a jelly mass with dark black dots. Those dots are the eggs and the little tadpoles are black, too. You are likely to see toad tadpoles in your pond. Funny thing about toads, though. I can’t recall ever seeing one swim. They get their lungs and legs, and leave the pond. They do prefer moist, well-lit areas at night when they feed.
Another common variety of frogs around the nation are leopard frogs. These spotted little amphibians are long and lanky. You may remember them making the news some years back as an indicator of pollution where some deformed ones were observed in northern water bodies. Leopard frogs seem to appear all at once each summer, numbering well into the hundreds. They are also bug eaters and are seen all around the edge of a pond, in wetlands, and permanent water. Funny, not only will they eat bugs, I’ve watched them try to eat each other. Brownish in color with rows of spots, leopard frogs are a favorite food of a variety of other critters, too. Great blue herons and many other birds which frequent the water will snag and eat these frogs. Just as fast as they appear in the hundreds, they disappear almost as quickly, due to being a favorite snack of birds, raccoons, and several other mammals—especially our cats. They love to eat leopard frogs. Leopard frog tadpoles grow extremely fast, much faster than their cousins, bullfrogs.
Speaking of bullfrogs, their tadpoles take two years to develop. Bullfrogs have big mouths and big appetites. These are the frogs favored for generations for the tasty meat of their legs. I can remember quite a few nights out with friends, chasing and gigging frogs to eat. Speaking of eating, you probably won’t believe what I’ve found in the bellies of frogs. Yes, I do see what they’ve eaten when we harvest a few from time to time. That’s what biologists do. I’ve found crawfish many, many times, small fish fairly often, and quite a few insects.
Here’s a story you might not believe, but it’s true. Years ago, I gigged a few frogs from several hatchery ponds I was managing, kept them alive in a bag, and brought them back to my truck to clean them. As I grabbed each one, I’d look at my brother-in-law and try to guess what was in their stomach before I cleaned it. Keep in mind, when I clean a bullfrog, we cook all four of the legs as well as the back. There’s meat on those bones, folks. Anyway, I got the first two correct. I felt the frog, felt that tell-tale lump, slightly long…cut it open and out falls a crawfish. The third one, though, felt a little different. Its tummy lump was rounder, flat on the bottom. Cut it open and that frog had just swallowed a baby red-ear slider turtle. As we looked at that little turtle on the tailgate of my truck, its little head popped out and it started to move. It was still alive! My brother-in-law showed it to his daughters and they wanted to take it home. Of course they did. Guess what they named it? Give up? Jonah…go figure.Spring peeper.
Frogs are another of the fascinating creatures we see around our ponds and lakes. Listen for them this spring and see if you can identify their voices. Once you hear them and know they are frogs, listen more closely. There are countless numbers of YouTube videos of frog sounds, and I bet you can figure out what frogs you have just by how they sound this spring.
For a final perspective on these amphibians, there are around 80 species of frogs in the United States and more than 4,000 around the world. Each has its own habits and its favored environment. If you have water, you have the potential for frogs.Leopard frog.