Down at the creek, the upland chorus frogs, accompanied by a few spring peepers, have started their mating songs. The chorus frogs sound like hundreds of people rapidly running their thumbnails along the teeth of hundreds of plastic combs, while the peepers produce a bell-like chiming, impressively loud for such a small frog.
We don’t have any permanent water in the garden (a pond is definitely on the “to do” list but never seems to arrive at “start now”), but both species spend time here when they aren’t busy calling for a mate. A third visitor to the garden, the northern cricket frog, will start calling later in the spring and continue into early summer. Its call sounds like someone clicking little pebbles together.
As I was edging a flowerbed on Saturday afternoon, a flash of movement caught my eye. It almost looked like a small grasshopper or cricket, but I thought it was a bit early and cold for those insects. When I got down on my hands and knees to peer at the mulch, I discovered a tiny cricket frog, so small that it could sit comfortably on my thumbnail.
Adults of all three species are about an inch (~2.5 cm) long. I usually find chorus frogs and cricket frogs on the ground, but peepers often climb in taller plants. Occasionally they get into the greenhouse, and I always remove them when I can. They’d be little more than a light snack for the Nepenthes pitcher plants, and I have seen tree frogs injure themselves jumping onto spiny Pachypodium.
If you garden in the piedmont, you can encourage these little frogs by not using insecticides and fungicides that could be absorbed through their skin or contaminate the water that they need for breeding. Undisturbed leaf litter and, perhaps, a small area of unmown grass make will make good hunting grounds for the frogs, and a small pond (without fish) or trough is always appreciated.
Here are a few more pictures of these frogs that I have taken over the past few years:
And here is a relevant passage from a novel I read recently. Clearly the author has spent some time considering the peeper:
Spring peepers, the noisiest frog per half inch that Dag knew of, had taken up their earsplitting chorus in the farm’s woodlot and pond when he rounded the corner of the barn to make his bedtime patrol. He stopped short when Whit called unexpectedly over the racket “Wait up, Dag!”
His tent-brother, a lantern swinging from his hand, fell in beside him. Whit cocked his head, listening to the peepers. “Maybe I could stuff cotton in my ears tonight. I’m sure glad I didn’t have to court Berry by squatting with my naked tail in a puddle and screaming for hours till she took pity on me.”
Dag choked on a laugh. “You just had to put that picture in my head, didn’t you? Maybe that’s why the lady peepers pick their mates. To shut them up.”
–Lois McMaster Bujold, Horizon (The Sharing Knife, Vol. 4)