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by C. Frederick
The sounds of spring include the quacking of freshly thawed frogs
Most people probably think of bird songs as the sound of spring, but for me it is all about the sound of frogs. Male frogs waking up and announcing loud and proud in a competitive chorus for all the nearby lady frogs “I’m here and I’m the best”. Still, at least one Dartmouth study suggests that singing as part of an amphibian choir is better than singing alone. More males calling will attract more females, increasing your odds even if you are in fact not the best. As the authors put it, even if Ringo was not the most popular Beatle, he surely had more fans than if he was not a Beatle.
In Maine, the first species we typically hear is the Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus). This distinctive looking amphibian has a brown mask behind the eyes and the ability to freeze solid all winter and yet thaw out unharmed and ready for action in early spring, a physiological coup that has garnered this species a lot of scientific attention. Returning to life with warming temperatures and rain in early spring gives these former frogsicles a jump on the mating season. In fact they will finish before some other frog species even begin. This timing means less chance of your temporary spring "vernal" pool drying up before your offspring have had the chance to hop away safely. Wood frogs typically complete the developmental gauntlet from egg to tadpole to frog in only two months. Their vocal stylings have been described as quacking ducks, clucking chickens, and even rowdy turkeys…depending on who you ask. So perhaps it is best if you listen for yourselves. Their calls might even sound familiar if you live within earshot of vernal pools, like many of us in the Sebasticook watershed. Pay attention because the onset of their calling may also signal another important spring phenomenon known as a Big Night.
Q. Why did the amphibian cross the road?
A. To get to the vernal pool on the other side.
On rainy nights when temperatures are at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit, migrations of amphibians such as frogs and salamanders can be observed. If conditions and timing are perfect, and you are in the right location, you may see a Big Night with hundreds of amphibians making their way to vernal pools. When Maine’s amphibians are on the move it is an exciting and rare opportunity to see a natural spectacle. More than that, it is also a chance to help them. Crossing roads is extremely hazardous for amphibians. To learn more, check out our study on the effects of the pandemic on traffic and amphibian mortality.
Maine Big Night: Amphibian Migration Monitoring (MBN), started by UMaine PhD candidate Greg LeClair, is a citizen science event in late March or April where volunteers go out to sites and collect data by counting amphibians while raising awareness of their presence on roads. Join SRLT members and citizen scientists of all ages across Maine helping to protect amphibians by participating in this Big Night event!
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