Did you know that yesterday (March 20) was not only the first day of spring but also World Frog Day? Well, neither did I, or I wouldn't have spent the day futilely looking for signs of spring in my winter-gripped environment. Instead, I would have been combing my archives for photos of these amazing creatures. It's way too early yet this year to start hearing the shrill calls of Spring Peepers or the croaks of Wood Frogs, but the memories of these delightful events attach themselves to my photos of them. I found a few of those photos, so I'm sharing them now on my blog. It's never too late -- or early! -- to celebrate our froggy friends!
Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
This photo is at least three times the actual size of this wee little frog, which may have been about an inch long, in a generous estimate. Makes you wonder how such itty-bitty creatures can make such enormous sounds, as you can attest if you stop by a woodland pond shortly after ice-out and be nearly deafened by their shrill cries. This racket is one of the of the sure signs of spring, so head out to any pools you know of and listen for their chorus. Any day now, we hope. The cross-like mark on this frog's back is a distinguishing feature.
Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)
(Note: the genus of many frog species has been changed from Rana to Lithobates)
Another sure sign of spring is the duck-like quacking of Wood Frogs as they convene for their mating orgies in vernal pools. Due to their distinctive body chemistry, these frogs are particularly tolerant of freezing temperatures and are among the first to stir out of terrestrial hibernation and head to pools that may still be edged with ice. After their passion is spent, this will be the last time this frog inhabits water but will spend the rest of the year on the forest floor. Hence the name "Wood" Frog. Their dead-grass-brown color and black bandit's mask are distinguishing physical features.
Gray Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor)
We call this cryptically colored frog a "gray" frog, but (true to its species name, versicolor) it can also turn green to better camouflage its presence among the leaves of trees. My friends and I were lucky to see this little fellow one spring, since these frogs spend most of their lives high in the trees and only come to ground to find a mate and lay eggs in vernal pools. One of the ways it finds likely mates is to flash a bright patch of yellow on the inside of its rear legs. "Hey, girl . . ."
Pickerel Frog (Lithobates palustris)
This isn't my most diagnostic photo of a Pickerel Frog, since it doesn't very clearly show the rectangular spots that distinguish it from the Leopard Frog, which has circular ones. But this is my favorite photo of it for other reasons. I'd been chasing this particular frog along the river bank, taking photos as I ran, but the frog blended in so completely with the mud I could hardly make it out. Then, wonder of wonders, it leapt onto this floating Red Maple leaf, which provided a perfect foil. It's a good thing I didn't try to grab it with my hands, since this frog's skin is known to produce poisonous secretions, useful for discouraging predators but also irritating to human skin.
OK, here's a clearer photo of a Pickerel Frog. Here's lookin' at you, kid!
Leopard Frog (Lithobates pipiens)
Leopard Frogs can be brown or as green as this one is -- just a gorgeous emerald green! Note the circular, rather than rectangular, spots. (Well, sorta!) The Leopard Frog's skin does not secrete a poisonous substance, as the Pickerel Frog's does, but it does contain certain enzymes that have shown some potential for the treatment of certain cancers. Just one more reason to celebrate frogs. And work to protect their habitat. They like CLEAN WATER!
Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans)
Oh Froggy, what big ears you have! Meaning, those circles behind the eyes, which are called tympani. This frog tends to be bigger all over than any of the frogs I have named so far, with only the Bull Frog being any bigger. I suppose it gets the name Green Frog from the color of its upper face, since the rest of its body tends to be browner than greener, except for the yellow chin. There's a similar-looking frog called a Mink Frog, but the Green Frog is distinguished by the black bands that encircle its legs. The Green Frog's mating call sounds like a plucked banjo string.
Bull Frog (Lithobates catesbeianus)
OK, here's the BIG GUY of the froggy universe, at least around these parts (meaning northeastern New York). In coloration, it resembles the Green Frog, but even if you put similar sizes of the two species next to each other, you'd recognize the Bull Frog immediately by its enormous mouth. Its mouth is so big, it pushes the tympani up toward the top of the head. Its mouth is so big it can stuff a rat in there, believe it or not, using its two hands to shove it in. The Bull Frog eats other frogs, too, so we are not likely to see a Green Frog sitting next to a Bull Frog. But if we did, we could note that the Green Frog has ridges (called dorsolateral folds) that extend the length of its body (see the photo above). The Bull Frog's dorsolateral folds stop just behind its tympani.