Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Chorus of Frogs

(Taking a break from the Florida posts to get back to Michigan and springtime!)

Ah, spring in the north woods. Muddy trails, mosses poking their heads out, migrating ducks on the newly opened waters. Sandhill cranes call from the marshes, the pileated drums out his territory, and the robin sings again at dusk and dawn.

And then there's the vernal pond.

You can hear the cacophony a quarter mile away. Not just a chirp or two, but an orchestra--no, more like three or four orchestras playing at once. As you draw near, the sound starts to rattle around in your head, like marbles in an empty can. Get close enough, and it stops, abruptly, like someone changing the channel, and again you hear birdsong and the breeze through bare trees.

But stand there long enough and the concert will begin again, just a chirrup here, then one there, then in moments dozens, perhaps hundreds, begin their songs, trying to out-compete his neighbor.

The cause of all of this (very literally) deafening noise?

This little pipsqueak:

The western chorus frog. All 3/4 of an inch of him. Standing by the edge of the pond and trying to find one is difficult, as only about 1/2 inch is sticking out of the water. Instead, let your eyes rest on one spot, and pay attention to where the sun glints off moving water. Ah, yes, just there, and there. Now you see their yellow vocal sacs, filling and deflating, as they call to the ladies.

Their vibrations fill the air, ripple across the water. I would be curious to know the decibel level at the edge of one of these ponds--the sound really is overwhelming. A 500 pound bear could walk up behind you and you would never hear it coming for the noise of these tiny little frogs.

There are others in the pond too, like the wood frog (1" to 3", a veritable giant compared to the chorus frog), who makes a sound not unlike a duck,

and the leopard frog (1" to 3 1/2"), whose soft chirrings are nearly lost in all the other noise.

I spotted this group of three chorus frogs and started watching them.

Then some action. The frog in the top right of the frame started to make his move. He chased the frog in the top left of the frame off, then came for the third.

A bit of froggy wrestling ensued. Now, all this time, a wood frog had been hanging out just to the right. Perhaps he saw this as his chance to get rid of these noise-makers and restore some quiet to the neighborhood. He's moving in....

..and then he threw himself into the fray, clamping his slimy legs over both chorus frogs! Take that! and that!

But too much slime makes for a poor grip, and both chorus frogs escaped, then used their assailant as a raft. Serves him right.

At this point I'd been squatting in the mud for at least 20 minutes and my feet had gone numb, so I had to move on. As I stood up, the pond fell silent again, and I heard the call of a downy woodpecker in the distance.

Ah, spring in the north woods.....


  1. Nice, nice shots! These guys are really only 3/4 of an inch? Then I say again: nice, nice shots! I knew that peepers were small, but I didn't realize the chorus frogs were too!

  2. Ditto. These guys make my heart sing!

  3. Your photos are so great the pip-squeaks look like kings of the water jungle, er, hood. Love the raft part. To the victor belongs the spoils! What a fun post. Thank you for some pretty neat 20 minutes!