Songster of Springtime
yet the earliest warbler wakes, of coming spring to
From every marsh a chorus breaks, a choir invisible,
As if the blossoms underground a breath of utterance
One night, when the weather was astonishingly warm for
March, I went out with my new friend Judy to listen
to the Spring Peepers. We drove to Hurley, parked by
the side of the road, and walked into a wet field. At
first, we walked through grasses and weeds, then, pushed
our way through brambles until the brush was higher
than our heads and the ground was criss-crossed with
tiny rivulets. Faintly, in the distance, we could hear
the ugly whooshing of tires on pavement, but in the
shrubs all around us an ancient song rose loud and glorious.
It was a chorus of clear, musical ascending whistles
in a complex interaction of calls and answers, produced
by the tiny tree frogs known as Spring Peepers.
Tree frogs are not true frogs, but are closely related
to toads. They are placed in their own family known
as Hylidae. The Spring Peeper, Hyla Crucifer,
is such a dainty, charming creature, only three-fourths
of an inch to one and one-fourth inches in length. It
is light brown or gray, and carries a dark, diagonal
Greek cross (St. Andrew's cross) on its back. It has
dark stripes on its long hind legs.
The Peeper has an amazing ability. Within a half-hour,
it can change its skin color to match its surroundings!
The dark lines that form the cross on its back change
to blotches which give a mottled effect and provide
excellent camouflage. The Peeper sleeps during the day,
and is very hard to spot clinging to the bark of a tree
with its specially adapted toes. Each toe-tip has an
adhesive disc by means of which the Peeper can climb
up slippery vertical surfaces -- even the sides of a
All tree frogs are carnivores. The Peepers dine primarily
on small spiders or insects. Their tongues are fastened
at the front of their mouths, not at the back as ours
are. They can "shoot out" their tongues to catch insects,
and will even jump in the air to snatch their prey.
They can jump a distance over seventeen times their
body length! When they swallow, they blink, which presses
their bulging eyes downward and helps push the food
down from mouth to stomach.
The surprisingly loud song of the tiny Peeper is produced
by courting males. They enormously inflate their vocal
sacs with air. When the sacs are filled with air, they
become sounding boxes for the noises produced by the
vocal cords. Some people think that Spring Peepers heard
at a distance sound like sleigh bells!
The females lay eight hundred to one thousand eggs,
each in its own globule of jelly and affixed singly
to stems and stones in the water; the male then fertilizes
them. The tiny tadpoles are a metallic reddish color.
It takes about three months for them to develop into
"froglets." Curiously, they leave the water while they
still have their tails! By fall, the little Peepers
have eaten a great deal and stored food in their bodies
anticipating hibernation. Sometime in November, when
the weather becomes truly cold, they hibernate -- beneath
moss, leaves, loose bark, or perhaps, under a log.
Spring Peepers are found in woods surrounding ponds
and swamps, ranging from South East Canada southward
to Central Florida, and westward to Texas.
There has been a world-wide decline in the populations
of certain amphibia. There are several reasons for this;
a major one being the destruction of wetlands which
are their breeding grounds. Automobiles take a huge
toll of the tiny creatures hopping across the rain-wet
roads at night. Those that avoid being crushed may meet
concrete road dividers that prevent migration to their
ancestral ponds. Some scientists suggest that the damaged
ozone layer in the upper atmosphere allows through too
much harmful ultraviolet B light that strikes and harms
the eggs. It is certainly true that amphibians absorb
gases and chemicals easily through their skins, and
the absence of these animals in a wetlands is a good
indicator that pollution is present. Let us hope that
our wonderful Peepers, harbingers of spring like the
Robins and Bluebirds, will always remain plentiful in
Articles by Miriam Sanders