Summer Peep

What we see is mainly what we look for.  


One morning when I walked out the front door I noticed a surprise visitor clinging to the edge of the tadpole-rearing container I have on the porch.

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper (click photos to enlarge)

It was an adult Spring Peeper, Pseudacris crucifer. As I reported on earlier this year, Spring Peepers were common out front and were calling almost every night. But once we get into late spring, they stop calling and seem to vanish. So, seeing one in the heat of summer is a treat.

Spring Peeper 2

Characteristic dark cross on the back of a Spring Peeper

The species name, crucifer, is Latin for cross bearing, and refers to the dark X-like marking typically found on the dorsal surface of most peepers. This one was probably a female as it was about 1.5 inches in total length (males are smaller, usually less than an inch).

Toe pads

Spring Peepers have prominent toe pads

The frog quickly moved from the edge of the plastic container (containing a few Cope’s Gray Treefrog tadpoles I am observing) and jumped into a nearby shrub. I looked closely at those feet and legs, capable of propelling this little frog such a considerable distance, and allowing it to grab any leaf, twig, or even vertical surface it lands on. At the tip of each digit are the round toe pads characteristic of treefrogs. The peepers’ legs don’t look much different to me than most other frogs, but it seems able to jump quite a distance given its small size. So, I started searching online and in my references and found an interesting tidbit reported by a famous Smithsonian herpetologist, A. Stanley Rand, in 1952. He observed the relative jumping abilities of six species of adult frogs and toads and found that Spring Peepers jumped an average of 17.5 inches per jump under his study conditions. This represented an impressive relative jumping distance (distance jumped/body length) of 17.9. This was good enough for second place in the competition. Species falling behind the Spring Peeper in the study were Fowler’s Toads, Bullfrogs, Green Frogs, and Northern Leopard Frogs. The clear winner was the Northern Cricket Frog, another small frog with an average jumping distance of 33.75 inches and a relative jumping distance of 36.2.

Spring Peeper head

Determination can be seen in the eye of the peeper

Looking into the peeper’s eyes, I can’t help but wonder if it is pondering this second place finish, and thinking of ways to even the score.

The Sound of Spring

…on the first warm night I stepped out to the back porch and heard in the distance a wonderfully high, thin sound, as clear as the first stars over the bare black trees.

~Kathleen Kilgore

They have been calling off and on for awhile now. That distinctive, high-pitched, clear call that means the end of Winter is near. It had been a single peep out front, maybe two at most, until Sunday night. Something was different, maybe warm weather really is here at last. I could hear them from the living room, from the kitchen, from anywhere in the house, and there was an urgency in their calls. So, I tried sneaking out the front door, only to cause a sudden silence. I walked over to the edge of the small pool in the yard and sat, and waited. Only a few seconds passed before the calls started again, first one somewhere in front of me, then one to the left, then another behind. Urgent indeed. I picked out the sounds of about four or five different male callers, but, try as I might, I could not find a single one in my flashlight beam. I have often been frustrated in this quest. I swear they can throw their shrill voices, making it difficult to locate their tiny, camouflaged bodies.

Spring Peeper calling

Spring Peeper calling (click photo to enlarge)

Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are diminutive members of the treefrog family, with males averaging only about 3/4 of an inch in length. Most are marked with a distinctive X pattern on their light brown back. They often call from branches of vegetation a few feet off the ground, so I started looking in the shrubs and small trees surrounding the pool. The sweep of the flashlight beam silenced them for a few seconds, and then they started up again. I stood and moved a few feet to look around, and, finally, there was one of the songsters. He was calling from the back side of the trunk of a Red Buckeye tree about four feet from the pool. As I moved closer, he stopped. I made what seemed to me a poor imitation whistle of a peep, and they all started up again. Really urgent it seems. I took a few quick images and then went inside, leaving them to their compelling task of finding a female. I had planned to go back out last night, but the drop in temperatures seems to have put a temporary halt to the calling…maybe Spring really isn’t here quite yet.