Spring peeper on bark

The markings on a spring peeper help it to blend into the bark of trees and leaf litter. This helps it hide from predators such as birds, salamanders, snakes and spiders. (Wikimedia Commons/USGS)

Go outside on a March night after temperatures have been in the 50s for a few days. If you are near a wet area, you are likely to hear the “lusty” chirping of one of the Chesapeake Bay watershed’s four chorus frog species — the southern chorus frog, upland chorus frog, New Jersey chorus frog and northern spring peeper — looking for love.

  • Boys in the band: Among the Bay species, only male chorus frogs sing. They are trying to attract females.
  • Little big mouths: Chorus frogs in the Bay watershed are no larger than 1.25 inches long. Yet their singing can be heard from as far away as 2.5 miles, depending on their numbers.
  • What’s for grub? Chorus frog tadpoles eat algae and other microorganisms. Adults eat ants, gnats, flies, beetles, spiders, worms — and grubs.
  • No breathy singing here: Human singers learn to control their breathing so it doesn’t interfere with their singing. This is not an issue for frogs, which breathe through their skin, as long as there is enough oxygen in the water. (Tadpoles breathe through gills, which are lost when they turn into adults.)
  • Don’t jump to conclusions: Although local chorus frogs are in the Hylidae (tree frog) family, only the northern peeper actually climbs trees.
  • Although chorus frogs can jump, they mostly walk.
  • Find Froggy! Between their small size and nocturnal habits, you are more likely to hear a chorus frog than see one. The best places to look
  • are ponds (both vernal and permanent), grassy wet meadows, and damp leaf litter in woods and swamps.
  • How deep is the pond? Knee-deep, knee-deep.
Spring peeper on leaf

The spring peeper’s genus name, Pseudacris, means “false cricket.” (Well Tea / CC BY-SA 2.0)

A peep at the pond's pop star

The northern spring peeper is the most widespread of the chorus frogs in the eastern United States and Canada. How widespread is your knowledge about this springtime serenader? Try your hand at this quiz. Answers are below.

1. A single peeper sounds like a chick. What does a choir of spring peepers sound like?

A. Backup horns on vehicles

B. Fingernails on a chalkboard

C. Jingle bells on a leather harness

D. Trumpet blurts

2. Wooded areas near swamps and ponds (vernal or permanent) are prime peeper mating habitat. Where is a peeper most likely to be calling from? Pick two.

A. Middle of the pond/water

B. Muddy depression

C. Tree overhanging the water

D. Waterside shrub

Spring peeper vocal sac

The peeper’s vocal sac, like this one in a vernal pond in Kings Gap State Park in Carlisle, PA, balloons out as it sings to attract a mate. 

3. Although the peeper prefers to stay on the forest floor, it is the only chorus frog in the watershed that climbs trees, thanks to large sticky pads on its toes. When they climb a tree, what is the general height limit?

A. 2 feet

B. 3 feet

C. 4 feet

D. 5 feet

4. Early in the breeding season (March to June), a peeper may do something it doesn’t do the rest of the year. What?

A. A hoppy mating “dance”

B. Peeps during the day

C. Eats berries to keep its voice sweet

D. Swims upside down to show off its vocal sac

5. A male peeper sings to attract females to its breeding territory, which is only 4–16 inches in diameter. Females prefer larger older males. How can they tell who’s who?

A. Older males peep faster.

B. Older males peep more slowly.

6. Chorus frogs’ backs are marked with spots or stripes. What is on the back of a spring peeper in some form (and is the source of its Latin species name, crucifer)?

A. Broccoli-shaped blobs

B. Bull’s-eyes

C. Cross-shaped mark

D. There are no patterns

7. Which is longer, a northern spring peeper tadpole or adult?

8. To avoid freezing to death in the winter, most frogs in colder climates bury themselves deep in oxygen-rich mud to hibernate. The peeper crawls behind loose bark on trees or under leaf litter and logs. What prevents it from freezing solid? (A spring peeper may hide in mud or deep water in the summer to escape extreme heat.)

A. It produces a form of glucose and “freezes” itself while hibernating, returning to normal when temperatures rise.

B. Its skin produces a hard shell that keeps the cold out.

C. It eats a lot of fireflies in the fall, which keeps the frog warm all winter.

D. It surrounds itself with many layers of leaves, forming insulating “peeper balls” that can be as wide as 1.5 feet.

ANSWERS

1. C
2. C&D
3. B
4. B
5. A
6. C
7. Tadpole
8. A

Kathleen Gaskell is the Bay Journal's copy and layout editor and author of the Chesapeake Challenge. Contact Kathleen at kgaskell@bayjournal.com.

(2) comments

craigpurcell

When I was a child in Annapolis living on the water we had an invasion (thousands) of small frogs that were very small. Would this have been this type of frog ?

LabLvr

[thumbup] Thank you so much for this article! I hear the peepers this time of year and didn't know anything about them but that they were very loud. I also had never seen a picture of one. I enjoy their sound because it means spring is coming.

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