Apr 4, 2012

Spring Peeper Breeding Frenzy

NOTE: After much more research on amphibian egg masses, I've revised this column to correct some information.

A tiny Spring Peeper in hand.
Photo by Fungus Guy, licensed under the 

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.   
Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) have been chorusing heartily up the mountain from my house. A week ago, at dusk, I walked up to see how they were doing. The sound grew louder as I approached a concrete tank below the pond, and a small frog jumped into the shallow water in the tank as I got to the rim, but I couldn't ID it.

I worked my way to the pond a few more yards up. It's always a bit of a scramble getting up the small earthen dam that holds the spring-fed water in and, with every step, the din grew. Not only were there obviously a lot of Peepers up there, but the pond is in a small bowl near the summit, so the sound reverberated off the rocky mountain behind it until it was almost deafening.

I'd brought my digital recorder and recorded the trip up as well as the sound at the top. Guess I wanted to hear myself huffing and puffing in the journey, but I also wanted to demonstrate the difference in the sound volume as I approached the pond.

When I finally reached the edge of the pond, I sat down to catch my breath and to enjoy the full chorusing of these tiny herps (one inch, max—about the size of a paper clip). I don't think I've ever heard frogs calling that loud, so it wasn't exactly a peaceful communion with nature. It was more one of those times that shrinks us into what we really are—merely another species on the planet, and a new kid on the block at that. These Peepers—or more accurately their ancestors—had been chorusing in the Appalachians many millennia before we first appeared on the scene. In the middle of the din, I felt dwarfed by that history, by the power of nature exhibited in such a little creature.
Amphibian egg masses in a pond in the 
Blue Ridge Mountains.  
Photos by Pam Owen.

An amphibian egg mass in a concrete tank 
near the upper pond.
Photos by Pam Owen.

Checking back a week later, I found the shallow pond (3 to 4 feet at its deepest) was full of egg masses. It was easy to see them through the clear, bluish water, even to the bottom in the center. However, getting to them because of the steep sides  is tricky,as is going all the way around the time. I also once again bemoaned the fact that I have an ancient digital camera and no polarization filter, so taking photos of the egg masses was tricky, with unsatisfactory results, which I've included here nevertheless.

I couldn't count all the clusters but roughly estimated at least three dozen. Not sure yet what species of herp these masses belong to, especially since they're cloudy. My first thought that they were Peeper eggs was way off base. Further research revealed that Peepers only lay a few eggs at a time, under leaves and debris. So who do these eggs belong to? Could be Red-spotted Newts, I haven't seen any in the ponds or nearby tanks, both of which have egg masses, but which my landlords spotted yesterday. I haven't heard other frogs calling up there, but I haven't been checking until recently. The one thing I am learning is how tricky it is to ID amphibian eggs.

An egg mass near they edge of the pond.  
Photos by Pam Owen.
To hear my slog up the mountain and the Peepers chorusing at the pond up there, click here. The sound file lasts 7.5 minutes, so you can move the audio-control slider ahead to get to the full chorusing and skip my noisy march up the mountain.

I'm monitoring the ponds at the bottom of the mountain, and the Peepers are just starting to get into full chorus down there, joining the Pickerels that have been calling for couple of weeks. To hear calling down at the lower ponds, click here.

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