Yard Mystery

Experience suggests it doesn’t matter so much how you got here, as what you do after you arrive.

~Lois McMaster Bujold

Green Treefrog backlit on leaf (click photos to enlarge)

I took this photo of a Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea) in May of 2006. I was walking around the yard looking for insects to photograph and stumbled upon this frog, backlit on a Tulip Poplar leaf. It was the first individual of this species I had ever seen on our property. I had seen many of these beautiful frogs on my travels in the Coastal Plain, but they were not common in the Piedmont back then. If my memory is accurate, this photo provided evidence for a new county record for this species in the database of amphibian distribution for the state maintained by the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, my employer at that time. They seem to have greatly expanded their range in recent years and are now fairly common in many suitable habitats in our area.

Over the years since, I have seen a Green Treefrog in the yard from time to time, but never more than a single one in any one season (and many years, none at all). I began to wonder if we just had one really old animal that had somehow found our little open spot in the woods on top of a hill (but since I assume most frogs of this size typically live only a few years, I started doubting that theory). Then, last year, there were two in the yard for a couple of months, regularly seen perched on the stems of Jewelweed in their stoic hunched pose. And again, this summer, we have seen two individuals, until yesterday, when I found three of them perched on plants just outside our front windows.

Green Treefrog on Beautyberry leaf
Treefrog #2, hanging out on a Jewelweed stem, where it blends in very well
Treefrog #3, hunkered down on a Jewelweed stem

So here is the mystery…where are these guys coming from and where are they breeding? Though we have a couple of small water gardens that provide habitat for several species (Green Frogs, Bullfrogs, Cope’s Gray Treefrogs, Eastern Narrowmouth Toads, Spring Peepers) we have never heard a Green Treefrog calling in our yard or anywhere in the neighborhood for that matter. I think I remember hearing some once at Jordan Lake, a few miles from our house, but you would think if they are breeding here that we would have heard that distinctive nasal queenk, queenk (or hey baby, hey baby) call at least once. As I write this, there are two perched within sight, one on a Jewelweed stem, the other on the same leaf of a Beautyberry shrub that it has been on the past three days (this is the one that has perched on our dining room window for several days recently). Other than our water gardens, the closest water is our intermittent stream down the hill and another water garden on a neighbor’s property a quarter of a mile from our house (he hasn’t seen or heard these frogs there). And yet, here they are, seeming content and doing what treefrogs do (except calling). I’m going to continue to keep track of them, assuming I can even identify individual frogs by the number and arrangement of the gold flecks on the dorsal surface (I think these remain constant?).

These guys are just so cool

So goes the life of people that live in the woods…you wander and ponder about your natural neighbors, hoping to gain some insight into how the world works, but enjoying their presence even if it all remains a mystery.

16 thoughts on “Yard Mystery

  1. I just love the little green tree frogs! I find them around my home regularly in Fearrington Village. Last night one was clinging to the window next to my front door. Another time I found one curled up inside the handle of my back porch door! He’s lucky I didn’t squish him when I reached for the handle to open the door!

  2. Dear Mike,

    For the past ten years or so green tree frogs have taken the habit of burying themselves into our cactus pots and coming in for the winter, sometimes as many as 5 or 6. Some years they are friendly and some years they are more shy. We learned to put bowls of water out for them and they feast on our long-legged cellar spiders and other small creatures in the house. Here is a picture of one who came and sat in our nicho beside the rain kachina for over two days.

    gary phillips

    97 box turtle road

    pittsboro, NC 27312


    we are each other’s harvest: we are each other’s business: we are each other’s magnitude and bond.

    ~ Gwendolyn Brooks

  3. Hi Mike – I worked in Wake County and helped open a new school, Turner Creek Elementary, in 2004. I found a green tree frog on the glass door of my library that school year. Quite a find since our school mascot was – the Treefrogs!

    Thanks for your posts – I love reading them, and learn a lot.

    Anne Geer Pittsboro On Sun, Sep 5, 2021 at 8:07 AM Roads End Naturalist wrote:

    > roadsendnaturalist posted: ” Experience suggests it doesn’t matter so much > how you got here, as what you do after you arrive. ~Lois McMaster Bujold > Green Treefrog backlit on leaf (click photos to enlarge) I took this photo > of a Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea) in May of 2006. ” >

  4. I had a similar experience with green treefrogs in southern Durham County. I was familiar with them from the Coastal Plain, but didn’t think they lived around here. But now I’ve encountered several over the years. I think they call loudly on summer nights every year in beaver ponds a few miles away, though I could be wrong in identifying the calls. Toads are common here but probably didn’t have much breeding habitat nearby.

    I’ve also wondered about anoles. I started seeing them in Durham and Chapel Hill over about the past 10 years and several started living by my back door a year ago (I worried when they were still active in December), but I never saw them in the Triangle before then. If green treefrogs or anoles were so common decades ago, I think I would have seen them here before. I like being able to see them at home, but is it due to climate change? On the other hand anoles were recorded in Chapel Hill before 2000 and I haven’t seen a fence lizard in a long time.

    • Hi Michael…as far as I can remember I have always seen anoles out here for the past couple of decades. Fence lizards were more common back then (late 90’s when I first purchased this property), but it was more open around the house then so that may influence their distribution.

  5. Love your work!!!

    Do you have any photos/observations/opinions about the 17-year Cicadas and how they lay their eggs on the tree branches, how they sever those branches, etc? Amazing creatures!!!!



    • Thanks, Bill. I have a bunch of images of the 13-year cicadas when they emerged in this area in 2011, but that was a couple of years before I started my blog. They are certainly a fascinating phenomenon and provide some tree trimming services along with aeration of the soil and a food source for all kinds of critters. Happy to send you a few pics if you are interested.

  6. We moved into our Durham house in 2005 and had lots of Cope’s but no Greens. Then 75 acres were cleared for a neighborhood behind us and storm water management pond was put in right behind us. We would go down to the pond and see the green tree frogs on the water plants but seldom in our yard or deck. But then for the past couple of years, the greens have moved into our yard and we come across them quite often. One found on an asparagus stalk! But we don’t see near as many of the Cope’s anymore. In the natural pond that used to exist from a dammed up creek and the woods… We used to hear chorus frogs every winter. Now we hear Green tree frogs, Bullfrogs, and the banjo sounding one that’s not coming to mind right now. We miss the crazy frequent fox calls from the land behind us, but at least we have some frogs to make up for them, and we have seen but not heard at least one fox since the neighborhood was built.

  7. Pingback: Seasonal Nature Notes for winter | Northeast Creek Streamwatch

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