Delaware News

Walk in the park

Relishing the sound of a froggy spring song

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Hooray for the spring peepers and chorus frogs!

Without these tiny amphibians, we might not be able to recognize this emerging season as spring.

By the time you read this, we (hopefully) will be enjoying some 60-plus temperatures. However, on the day of this writing, the temperature won't rise above 45 degrees, and that's after coming off one of central Ohio's coldest months of March.

The woodland wildflowers are still hiding, and trees have yet to leaf out. We even had a threat of snow April 1. But the tree frogs are singing and that's a good sign.

Their songs filled the air at Deer Haven Preserve during a recent walk, even as a rim of ice clung to the edge of the wetlands that make up the frogs' breeding ponds. Cold temperatures do not slow these little frogs down.

The northern spring peeper is a tiny little thing -- generally less than an inch in length and small enough to sit on a dime. But its call, a shrill, birdlike peep or whistle that gives the frog its name, carries a long way. You can't miss it, whether you are hearing a single call or the chorus from dozens of the little frogs.

Some people think they are hearing crickets, but this is the wrong time of year for that; we'll hear crickets and other insects in the summer.

The song of the western chorus frog is another unmistakable ingredient of spring. These frogs also are very small, and their call resembles the sound made by rubbing your finger over the teeth of a hard, plastic comb. You might hear both frogs singing from the same pond or wetland; when they are sharing a breeding pond, the peepers will use the deeper areas, while the chorus frogs will stay in the shallows.

Both of these terrestrial frogs hibernated over the winter in deep cracks and crevices in logs and rocks, or by burrowing deep into the leaf litter, or even -- in the case of the chorus frog -- underground.

A high level of glucose in their vital organs prevented the frogs from freezing to death, and the first hint of above-freezing weather was enough to thoroughly thaw them and send them hurrying to the nearest wetland for breed- ing.

That's what they are doing now as they sing their joyous songs. Both have an extended breeding season, which can last into May or even June, and females will lay upwards of a thousand eggs, singly or in clusters, attached to vegetation. The eggs will hatch in six to 12 days, and tadpoles will begin to change into frogs several months later.

Like other tree frogs, the peepers and chorus frogs will leave the water after their conversion from tadpoles to adult frogs. After breeding, the peepers will move to woodlands and live in shrubby areas where they are well camouflaged. The chorus frogs might be even harder to spot; some escape summer heat by burrowing into mud.

And sadly, their song will end, as spring fades into summer. So now is the time to walk the park trails and listen. Even if spring is slow in coming, the little tree frogs know what time of year it is, and their songs are a celebration.

You and your children can learn more about these and other amphibians during several upcoming Preservation Parks programs.

April 20, at 6:30 p.m., we'll go on a Springtime Evening Stroll to listen and watch for signs of the season. This program is for ages 6 and older, and will be held at Emily Traphagen Preserve, 5094 Seldom Seen Road. We'll explore the vernal pools at Gallant Woods Preserve, 2151 Buttermilk Hill Road, during a Wetland Walk May 11 at 4 p.m.; this program is for ages 9 and older.

Finally, your preschooler (ages 4-5) can learn about frogs and toads during Preschool Park Pals, May 22 and 23, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. both days. This program, held at Deer Haven Preserve, 4183 Liberty Road, is free, but registration is required by May 15; call 740-524-8600, ext. 3, or email register@preservation parks.com.

Sue Hagan is marketing and communications manager for Preservation Parks of Delaware County.

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