The snow has receded to tiny patches on northern hill slopes. The plates of ice are floating on the mostly-open surface of the pond, and that has freed the Western Chorus Frogs, who began singing three days ago.
These are tiny little frogs no bigger than the tip of a thumb, but can they sing! Imagine the sound of fingers running along the plastic teeth of a comb. Like all frogs, theirs is a male chorus. This is their love song, and it is amped up to near-heavy metal levels by strength in numbers.
A male frog actually goes into hibernation with elevated testosterone levels and he wakes up pumped! It is his full-throated, spring call that starts the frog life cycle. You can listen to their call here. This is the EEK site (Environmental Education for Kids put together by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Kids – schmids. I go there all the time. Check it out.
We’ve been listening to the Chorus Frog clarion call each spring for the past few years as we work anywhere within a few hundred feet of the pond, but if we get too close, they clam up and dive for the bottom.
Yesterday we heard the first tentative chirp of a Spring Peeper, whose buddies are about to join the concert. You can hear its call at the same EEK! website.
Different frogs evidently have different personalities. The Chorus Frogs are so shy that they can die from fright if they are handled, according to Randy Korb, who just gave a great talk at the final event of the Winter Enrichment Lecture Series at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum yesterday.
Randy works through the St. Croix Wildlife Association, giving kids a chance to hold and feed frogs, toads and salamanders. He helps children to connect with these critters.
Randy wants every kid to keep a toad, frog or salamander for a pet. “Kids keeping pet frogs is not the reason they are declining. “Gray Tree Frogs are great,” he said. “And Spring Peepers make good pets. They are easy to keep and train. With proper care, kids will have time to develop an emotional attachment.”
Amphibians are disappearing from the landscape for many reasons, but one of the main ones is Atrazine, a herbicide banned in Europe, but still widely used in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. Getting kids to care may be one of the only ways to ultimately save these gentle creatures.
How long do frogs live? Randy’s answer is – on average, half an hour. As soon as frog eggs are laid, other critters start eating them. Nature pounds away at tadpoles. Very few of them make it out of the pond. Many tadpoles take two to three years to make it to froghood. Then they need to live long enough to breed and lay more eggs. Only about 1-2 percent of those eggs ever get to make more eggs. No wonder the males sing so compellingly.
For companionship, Randy prefers toads. He has been keeping company with toads for more than 25 years and finds them to be a very sociable animal. They are very perceptive, and we underestimate these animals,” Randy said.
To demonstrate, he put a few toads on the floor and asked for a volunteer to offer them a tasty worm from about 20 feet away. I found myself on all fours waving a worm and coaxing three frogs to come and get it. They did just that, hopping boldly up to me and nibbling at my thumb before grabbing the worm with blinding speed.
Almost as rapidly, amphibians are performing a vanishing act.
Blanchard’s Cricket Frog was once our most common Wisconsin frog, but now it may be down to a population of 500. Their stronghold is in the Southwestern part of the state, in the general neighborhood of our farm. How fortunate would we feel if they showed up in our pond one day to join the Chorus Frogs, Spring Peepers, American Toads and Green Frogs that already call the pond home!
Pickerel Frog numbers are also dropping. They like really cold, unpolluted trout streams. Smith Connely Creek across the road from us has cows tramping through it, and probably doesn’t qualify as unpolluted, but hopefully somewhere in the Driftless Area you can still here Pickerel Frogs continuing their cycle of life, if you listen hard.
Sing on, frogs. Sing on forever.