Well, Spring has finally sprung in the Northeast! It took it long enough, and still the overnight temperatures have been below 40F, but not below freezing so I’ll take it. Anyway, I’ve been working with some students on a new research project, and it’s been so much fun that I wanted to share some of it with you all.

Spring Peepers: I’m calling them nature’s alarm system. In fact, they are tiny frogs with the scientific name Pseudacris crucifer. They are one of the first of the amphibians to emerge once the weather is no longer freezing. I call them an alarm system because they don’t croak like you expect from a frog: they beep. Seriously, it’s a high pitched beeping sound. Here, check it out:

We went looking for Spring Peepers last week. What this means is wading through a wetland at dusk. We were literally up to our knees in water and listening carefully for the little beeping sounds. I and one of my students discovered a few of them were living in the reeds around a rock, so we spent nearly an hour slowly moving around the rock and shifting the reeds around so that we could see them. The problem is that when you approach, they stop beeping until they think it’s safe again, so we had to move really carefully.

Peepers are pretty easy to identify. They are about an inch to an inch and a half long. They range in color from light brown to greenish brown or even purplish brown. The distinguishing feature is a cross-like pattern on their back.

This one is peeping – you can see the skin beneath it’s chin expanded. Photo by Elizabeth Nicodemus

Of course, the other way to identify them is to track the beeping/peeping sound. However, that’s hard to do. The sound tends to bounce around, so you are often following the echo, not the source. When two or three of them are together, they can be just a half-step or even a quarter-step apart in pitch, which is where the alarm sound comes in. Two pitches in unison that are that close together produces an overtone series that nearly hurts your ears.

They get louder as it gets darker, and if you are near a shall0w pond or wetland at this time of year just after it gets dark, the noise is incredible. In fact, you can even hear them a mile or two away!

Here's one of the peepers that we found by the rock

Here’s one of the peepers that we found by the rock, click to see the enlarged version

So, if you are bored some nice evening this spring, head out to your local wetland and listen for spring peepers. Maybe even go hunting for them! If you are going to grab one to look at, grasp it by the front legs. You pretty much can’t hurt it that way no matter how tight you squeeze, but if a frog is inside your hands, the oils of your skin get on their skin and it’s very irritating to them and a little dangerous.

Happy frog hunting!

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