Agriculture - Spring peepers in the air

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Absolutely nothing says spring more than the distant chorus of spring peepers.  There is a wooded stream just off Conner Station that is home to a cacophonous band of peepers all competing for as many females as they can.  On a warm March evening, especially after a shower, spring peepers remind me of how glorious rural life can be.  Just by listening, a whole other world can be imagined.

This year, I heard the peepers on the evening of February 21st.  Our unusually warm February has awakened the male peepers in anticipation of frog love. Male spring peepers are the noise makers.  The louder and faster they peep the luckier they get on their quest to attract females.  As cocktail hour approaches, the song to lure females begins and. If you really listen, you will hear a distinctive peep coming from tiny amphibians.  

Spring peepers are tiny (no bigger than an inch in length) frogs that appear brown, tan, olive or reddish in color with a distinct X formation on their backs.  If you are lucky enough to see one up close and personal you can further identify the peeper by its big toes that are used for climbing.  Although they can climb, spring peepers prefer to nestle in debris in the forest floor; their preferred habitat is along wooded streams, moist lowlands and ephemeral ponds (temporary pools that dry up later in the season are ideal to lay your eggs because there are no fish present to eat your babies).  

Breeding is a nocturnal affair and when the female makes her choice she does so based on the male’s size (larger peepers are chosen over smaller) and his song; mating takes place in the water where egg laying occurs shortly thereafter.  The female lays her eggs on a stick or leaf in the water and the parent’s job is done.  Good luck little tadpole, who hatches in a week or two after egg-laying.

The life of a peeper averages 3 years if you are not eaten by a snake, salamander, bird or big spider.  Mating age is about three years old (remember the larger spring peepers are the preferred mate.)  So, if you are a younger peeper you nestle in debris during the day and then forage for flies, ants, small spiders and beetles for a meal and sing love songs at night hoping to get lucky during the spring mating season.   The chorus of singing also serves a purpose in protection because the louder the song the more difficult it is for a predator to actually pin-point an individual meal.

When the weather turns the spring peeper goes into hibernation in a frozen cryonic state, in some cases; they find a log or loose bark to fare the winter and thaw out at about 28 degrees.  Hearing a strong spring peeper chorus is not just some luxury to enjoy from nature; it is a serious indication of the health of our environment.  Amphibians are indicator species, meaning they are the first to mutate, decline or die if our water ways are polluted.  If the peepers go silent it is our fault!  Be mindful of your lawn and garden practices, run-off issues from paved surfaces, your use of chemicals in and around the home, manure management on farms and anything that may potentially find its way into our local waterways.