Spring has officially sprung in The Land Between (hooray)! That means the turtles are emerging, the woodcocks are dancing, and the Spring Peepers are peeping.
Spring Peepers are a common species of tree frog found throughout Eastern North America. In Canada, they can be found from Manitoba to PEI.
They are small (about the size of a paper clip), and have grey, tan or brown bodies and a dark X-shaped mark on their back. In fact, they are the only frogs in Ontario with this X-shaped marking, making it a good identifier if you can actually spot these cryptic dudes…
They spend most of their 3-4-year lifespan in a wide variety of forest habitats close to where they breed. Despite being classified as tree frogs they prefer to hang out in the leaf litter below the trees rather than actually in them. The favorite meals of adult Spring Peepers include beetles, ants, flies and spiders, while the tadpoles prefer to munch on algae and microorganisms.
Speaking of meals, adult Spring Peepers are a common snack for many of their forest neighbors including salamanders, owls, spiders and snakes. The tadpoles are also food for salamander larvae and aquatic invertebrates.
When it is time to find a mate, Spring Peepers will move to nearby shallow ponds, preferring forested pools that are not home to any fish, and that only hold water for part of the year.
From about April to early June, on warm spring nights, Spring Peepers can most easily be recognized by the high-pitched “peeping” that gave them their name.
The repeating “peep….peep…peep” is the sound of males looking for a female. The peep call is repeated about 20 times per minutes, and can be herd over one kilometre away! The males often compete with each other in groups of three, with the frog with the deepest voice starting the call, and the others chiming in after him. The males with the loudest and fastest call tend to do the best with the laddies.
How do Peepers Peep?
Spring Peepers make their characteristic call by moving air from their lungs, over their vocal cords and into their “vocal sac”, a balloon-like pocket in their throats that inflates to look like a bubble. The inflation of the vocal sac helps to make the peeping call nice and loud.
Why peep now?
Spring Peepers are one of the first frogs to start calling in the spring. This is likely because they have adapted to be able to prevent themselves from freezing even when the temperature is a few degrees below zero. This allows them to be out in cooler temperatures and breeding ahead of many other species that hibernate through the winter.
Spring Peepers are also nocturnal, and so are most active at dusk and during the night. This is why their mating songs are usually only heard in the evenings.
What happens after the peeping ends?
When a male has successfully won over a female with his beautiful song, the two will mate. The female lays her eggs on underwater vegetation, and the male fertilizes them as they are laid. The female will lay 800 to 1000 eggs, either all together or in a few small groups. The eggs hatch into tadpoles in one to two weeks, and become new full grown peepers in about 3 months!
So the answer to the age old question “Why do Peepers peep?” is this: Peepers peep so that future generations of peepers can keep peeping for years and years to come. Say that 5 times fast!