Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Frog-Hunting in Connecticut: Our 10 Frog Species

Jumping Jehoshaphat! It's Frog Season!

After what seemed like an incredibly long winter here, we finally have the most spectacular spring weather ever! Patio tables are being dusted off and set up, little cell packs of potting soil are showing up on people's front steps after work. Kids have ditched long pants for shorts, and knees are going to school skinned.

This month's Outdoor Hour Challenges have been studies of reptiles and amphibians, and I almost thought we wouldn't be able to participate! While it's still a little cool for our reptile friends to show up, there are signs of amphibians all around.

Sing a Froggy Song...

WAY back in February, we had a brief warm period -- warm enough to leave the sliding door cracked so the cats could run in and out at night. On one of those nights, when we were walking our dog before bed, we heard a familiar, but very lonely, spring voice...

Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) [Credit: Potomac Overlook Park, 2012 via Creative Commons]

I guess one little fellow thought he'd brave the elements and get a jump on the cutest spring peeper girls.

Now that we have temperatures in the 40's and near 50 most nights, we hear the wonderful chorus every night.

Other fun facts about spring peepers:
  • My Caribbean friends say that our spring peeper is very much like the little coqui that folks from Puerto Rico love so much. 
  • The call of the spring peepers is affected by air temperature. The warmer the air, the more "peeps" per minute. The Audobon society has a great article all about the song of the spring peeper.

Frogs, Toads and Other Nighttime Friends

If you limit your nature study to daytime, you are missing lots of cool stuff! In fact, some of our best nature study happens by accident, when we are walking the dog before bedtime. Not long ago, as I waited for Lucky to find just the right spot in the woods along the driveway, I heard a deep snort. Not really wanting to find out if it was a young black bear (they demolish bird feeders in our town on occasion), or a buck that got surprised by the dog, we quickly found a more well-lit place to hang out. But what a story we had to tell when we got back in the house!

So, on one of these evening sojourns last week,  we spotted the biggest toad I have ever seen, not hopping, but lumbering, first left front and right rear leg, then right front and left rear leg, across the driveway. The dog thought this was the most exciting thing next to a cat running by -- but I didn't let him catch the toad, because toads secrete something from their skin that makes potential predators vomit.

Fowler'sToad, Bufo fowleri. [Photo credit: Kim M. Bennett, 2013]

We have so many toads where we live, that you have to take a flashlight when you walk down the drive at night, or you might step on one. During the day, they burrow under the woodchips in my flower bed. I have more than once been surprised while working in the flowers, when the ground erupts suddenly and hops away!

[One of my kids' favorite books when they were very young...]

Froggy Went A-Courtin'...

My youngest son discovered a pond deep in the woods. Since the weather is going to be rainy tomorrow, then nice on Friday, we expect there to be a lot of frog activity over the next few days. So we're gathering our frog egg collecting materials to be ready.

We have a huge crop of skunk cabbage in the woods, which tells us that these are low spots that often collect water. If you have a low spot that is wet every spring, it may be a vernal pool. My eldest son, the naturalist, says that you can tell a vernal pool from a generic wet spot, because the leaves are gray and washed out, and look dusty during dry times of the year.

Vernal pools are important for amphibians, since all of them (that live in Connecticut) depend on water for their larval stage. Larger vernal pools are also frequented by migrating birds in the spring. These pools don't have to be very big, but, in our town, they are important enough that builders are not allowed to build over them.

When you walk in the woods, look for skunk cabbage, and ground that seems spongy and soft. After rains, check here for amphibian eggs.

Vernal pools are important habitats for amphibians. [Photo credit: Kim M. Bennett, 2012]

Our Frog Survey

There are ten frog and toad species native to Connecticut. Next to each, I have marked them to indicate their status (per the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection):

E = endangered
T = threatened
SC = special concern 
D = declining
S = secure
U = uncertain
I = introduced

  1. Eastern Spadefoot (E)
  2. Northern Leopard Frog (SC)
  3. Gray Treefrog (D)
  4. Wood Frog (D)
  5. Eastern American Toad (S)
  6. Fowler's Toad (S)
  7. Northern Spring Peeper (S)
  8. Bullfrog (S)
  9. Green Frog (S)
  10. Pickerel Frog (S)

It makes me sad to see some of our froggy friends on the decline or endangered. Amphibians are so very sensitive to environmental changes and toxins.

Wood frogs occasionally hitch a ride into the house, on the sliding door. [Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012]

We adapted our animal survey to use for our amphibian work this month. So far we have three critters on the list:
  • Northern Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) (Feb/Mar/Apr)
  • Eastern American Toad (Bufo americanus americanus) (Apr)
  • Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) (Apr)
We'll keep track of each month that we see each species, to get an idea of their patterns in our area, adding to the list as they wake up for the spring.

If you'd like a copy of the survey sheet, click the link, below. Check out the "FREEBIES" tab for other pages we have made available for free.

See also "Animal and Plant Surveys: 10 Reasons to Get Outside and Survey" (Simple Science Strategies) for more on the use of surveys in nature study.

This post was linked to the following great carnivals and link-ups:

 Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings Hip Homeschool Hop Button