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Signs of Spring: April 10, 2000

Today's Update Includes:

Singing Frogs Signal Spring
FIRST Frogs Singing
Beginning in January, and leading up to their grand, spring crescendo, Journey North observers from Florida to British Columbia have written to say that their local frogs had begun to sing. Today's map shows where and when the choruses began.

Stephen Maguire from Townsend, MA (42.67N,-71.60) reported: "Amazing!!!! On my way home from school today, I drove through a heavily wooded swampy area. At the stop sign, I was astounded to hear the resounding chorus of 'peepers'! It's the earliest I have heard them in a long time." (

Eileen Conroy in Trenton, ON (44.50N,-77.46W) reported: "What a great way to say goodbye to March! The spring peepers are awake! We heard them at 7:45 pm EST singing in the beaver pond behind the house. I've been listening for them for several weeks (

John Yaya in Colesville, MD (39.06N,-76.98W) reported: "Have been leaving the windows open to hear them and finally did after a heavy rain last night! Yippee!" (

Rick McCleary of Harley, ON (43.06N,-80.48W) reported: "What a treat to have the quiet night pierced with the choruses of the spring peepers." (

You Think YOU Had a Long Winter!
After spending the winter buried under mud at the bottom of a lake, or surrounded by molding leaf litter, it's no wonder frogs are ready to sing in the spring! And if you go outside on a rainy night, you might see them on the move. So, put on your rain slicker and your galoshes', and grab your flashlight. You may see them traveling from their wintering area to a breeding pond. But, quiet on the set! Once you're near the pond, be sure to tread lightly--any disturbance and the frogs will stop their tune. But if you are quiet, they'll likely start up the chorus again.

But What's All the Singing About?
In the breeding pond, just who's doing the singing? Who's listening? And what do the songs mean? Spring Peeper frogs can give us a glimpse into the answers.

Sweet Serenade
Frog expert Madeleine Linck tells us that it's generally the male frog doing the calling during breeding season (She notes that many modern herpetologists refer to it as "calling"). While females can be vocal (they have a release call), it is only the males that call to attract females. Males get to the breeding ponds first, and will be calling when the females arrive.

Amphibian Advertising
According to Madeleine, the males' calls are known as "advertisement" calls, and they are very specific calls to attract females. The high pitched "peep, peep" call is a classic advertisement call. Madeleine tells us that experts Stebbins and Cohen, in their book "A Natural History of Amphibians", conclude that the advertisement calls are species identification signals. Only spring peepers will follow the location of a spring peeper chorus. There is also a trill call that is thought to be for territorial spacing. It tells an intruding male that it is getting too close to another. The author of "Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region", James Harding, believes that females may favor males with louder faster calls.Which leads us to ask loudly:

Challenge Question #11
"Why do you think a female might be more attracted to a louder, faster call? Is there some strategy in the call? What might it tell the female about the male?"

And the Grammy Goes to...
The males will breed when a female approaches closely. Spring peepers have external fertilization, which means that the male will release his sperm as the female lays her eggs. Females lay single eggs or small clusters of eggs. When she is done, it is believed that the females leave the pond. The males stay in the pond for a longer time.You may be wondering:

Challenge Question #12
"Why do the male frogs stay in the breeding ponds after they have already fertilized a female's eggs?"

(To respond to these questions, please follow the instructions below.)

Calling All Frogs!
If you were a frog, you'd have to know the mating call of your kind. So tune your ears and learn the unique calls of these four frogs:

*Note: These sound files are large, so download with care.
All Recordings Courtesy of Lang Elliott Nature Sound Studio

Chorus Frog
(Pseudacris triseriata)

Spring Peeper
(Hyla crucifer)

Spotted Chorus Frog
(Pseudacris clarki)

Pacific Chorus Frog
(Hyla pseudacris)

When you think you know them as well as any frog, you're ready for the Frog Call Quiz:

Challenge Question #13
"If you were a Spring Peeper, which of the above calls would you listen for, Frog Call A, B, C, or D?"





(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Keeping an Eye to the Sky: Predator/Prey
Life in the spring is not just a song for frogs. Right when the first frogs are calling, they also need to keep an eye to the sky. Some of the birds that return close to the time that frogs emerge include the:

  • Sharp-shinned Hawk
  • Broad-winged Hawk
  • Northern Harrier
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Bittern
  • Fox Sparrow
  • Hermit Thrush
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • American Robin

Some of these birds return north at this time in part BECAUSE the frogs are emerging. For some, the timing is just a coincidence. Do a little research on these birds and try to answer:

Challenge Question #14
"Which of these bird migrations do you think are timed to coincide with the return of frogs? Give one or two reasons why you think so."

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Please Report the Unique "Signs Of Spring" from Your Part of the World!
Your sightings of first frogs, earthworms, emerging leaves, flowing sap, melting ice--and other spring events will to be incorporated into these "Signs of Spring" updates.

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question:
Please answer ONLY ONE question in EACH e-mail message.

1. Address an E-mail message to:
2. IMPORTANT: In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #11 (#12,#13,OR #14)
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer the question above.

The Next "Signs of Spring" Update Will be Posted on April 24, 2000.

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