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What Time is it in Nature: Spring Peeper

March 29, 2014

If you’ve paid attention to the sounds of nature at night recently, you have likely heard one of North Carolina’s most widespread frogs. Choruses of Spring Peeper calls have begun to fill the evening soundscape at Prairie Ridge, a good sign that spring is finally here!

Spring Peeper

Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are small frogs common throughout North Carolina and most of the eastern US. Topping out at an inch and a half, these little frogs come in a variety of color forms, including tan, grey, yellow, pink, and orange. Spring Peepers generally remain well-hidden, but the X-shaped mark across their backs is distinctive and will let you know when you’ve spotted one. In fact, the species name crucifer refers to this mark and means “cross bearing.”

Spring Peepers are woodland frogs and you’ll typically find adults close to the ground in brushy undergrowth close to temporary or semi-permanent fishless ponds. Like many of their close relatives, they feed primarily on insects and other invertebrates as adults. Unlike some of their relatives, Spring Peepers tend to remain active throughout the winter. They even contain chemicals that act as a sort of antifreeze that allows the frogs to survive and remain active throughout all but the coldest winter days. On particularly cold days, they will retreat into shelters under bark or logs, but Spring Peepers can remain active at surprisingly low temperatures and are one of the only frogs you can expect to hear in the middle of winter.

As their name suggests, Spring Peepers make a peeping sound when they call. For such little frogs, their calls are quite impressive! Individual frogs can be heard a mile away, and large choruses can be heard even further, their overlapping calls creating a sound similar to sleigh bells. The calls are an important part of their biology: males call to attract mates in their winter and early spring breeding season. Once they’ve mated, female Spring Peepers will lay their eggs in ponds and the tadpoles will spend about three months in the water before emerging onto land as adults. Tadpoles feed on aquatic plant matter, and are an important food source for wading birds, snakes, other frogs, and some insects, including giant water bugs and dragonfly nymphs.

We’ve heard Spring Peepers calling at Prairie Ridge on recent warm evenings, but you can hear them all over the Triangle. Spring Peepers remain well hidden and are hard to find, but if you’re lucky you might see one in the brush near the pond, alongside one of the temporary pools, or in a brushy area along the edge of the forest. If you hear a Peeper call during the day, try following the call to the source! But even if you can’t find a frog for a close look, enjoy the sound. The recent warmer nights mean a lot of Spring Peepers are out calling, and that spring is on the way!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation.  Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photo by USGS, used under the Creative Commons License)

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