Spring is just a peep away


By Kirsten Carlson

And I’m not referring to the sugary sweet treat (but they too will be coming to a shelf near you).

There are some rituals in February that many of us look forward to as a signal that spring will momentarily arrive. One that brings excitement to my heart is the sound of the spring peeper. A little frog no larger than an inch; its trill of a call can be heard in mass when you pass by a watery area, such as a vernal pool or roadside ditch. Try to walk up to the pool or ditch to spy the little ones and you hear the stop of the calling. You can’t sneak up on those sly peepers.

Spring peepers are ubiquitous throughout Indiana. You can find them in upland forests, meadows, wetlands and even in the suburbs if there is a source of water to lay their eggs that persists long enough to allow the tadpoles to become froglets or adults.

Frogs and toads are unique in their dietary requirements. As tadpoles they are herbivores (eating leaf litter, algae and other plant matter), but as they continue to develop limbs and other body parts indicative of a frog, they require a diet higher in protein and fat, consequently, they enter the omnivore stage of life (adding tiny little aquatic insects or pieces of “meat” they find in the water).

Then as an adult on land, they are carnivores (finding small insects, worms, spiders, snails, mites, etc.) to dine upon. If you were shrunk down to an inch, what could you find to please your palette? Considering that these little frogs are active when temperatures a just above freezing, their prey also must be active above freezing as well. Spiders, mites and snails are a good choice for a warm Valentine’s Day dinner.

During the cold temperatures of winter, you might be able to find them in a torpor stage under leaf litter, logs, or holes in trees; a good reason to keep your leaf litter and logs lay throughout the year if you have them near your home. The adults seek shelter in these moist areas as well during the hot dry spells of summer. Spring peepers have adaptations that allow them to withstand the cold temperatures in the winter by concentrating sugar in their cells and in the summer, they can also survive with a reduce amount of water in their cells (when water becomes available, they can absorb it).

The scientific name of the spring peeper is, Pseudacris crucifer. The genus, Pseudacris, means a false locust, referring to the cricket or locust-like call they make. The species name, crucifer, means cross-bearer, referring to the cross on its back, which we use as a main identifying mark (they can be confused with chorus frogs and cricket frogs).

This February, see if you can’t find the natural signal that spring is around the corner by listening for the call of spring peepers nearby. Take a walk in the woods, by a pond or other watering hole, and listen carefully for the sound of the peeper. If you need some help, check out this website by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to learn how to identify frogs and toads by their call in.gov/dnr/kids/get-up-and-go-outside/know-your-frog-calls/. Oak Heritage Conservancy has many preserves in which spring peepers call home.

Feel free to master your frog and toad calls at one of our preserves. You can find a preserve near you at oakheritageconservancy.org/conserved-land/.

Kirsten Carlson is a biology teacher at Ivy Tech Community College and the Education and outreach coordinator for Oak Heritage Conservancy. Oak Heritage is a nonprofit that protects more 1,100 acres of habitat in southeast Indiana, including old growth forests, native wildflower meadows, creeks, and wetlands. The organization holds hands-on nature programs for the public. Their work is possible because of support from their members, donations and grants. For. more about Oak Heritage Conservancy at www.oakheritageconservancy.org. Send comments to [email protected]

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