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Speaking of Nature

Kids & Critters: The wood frog

  • Wood frog.<br/>Bill Danielson photo

    Wood frog.
    Bill Danielson photo

  • Wood frog.<br/>Bill Danielson photo

I went for a walk with my wife this past weekend and while we were walking along a section of roadway that ran through a forested area, we heard a curious sound. It wasn’t a crow, but it sort of sounded crow-ish. It wasn’t a chicken, but it definitely sounded a little like a chicken. It was a strange, clucking-barking sound and it was coming from the woods.

Now this really threw my wife for a loop! Not only was it a very strange sound, but it was pretty clear that there were many animals — whatever they were — making this sound. It was as if there was a dinner party being held among the trees. But what was perhaps the most peculiar of all was the fact that the sounds were close to us, but we couldn’t see a thing.

The leaves on the trees haven’t popped out yet, which meant it was easy for us to see into the woods. The sounds were loud, they were made by something that was close to the road and yet they were invisible. Luckily, I knew what these sounds were, but that didn’t prevent me from teasing my wife a little bit. I invented some story about how the ghosts of Revolutionary War soldiers would wander the forests and attempt to shoot their flintlock rifles at the living, whom they resented.

Well, it wasn’t long before my wife was getting a little spooked, so I finally laughed and told her not to worry. This was not the sound of ghosts. It was the sound made by a group of frogs. Somewhere in the woods, not far from the road, there was an area that was flooded deep enough to attract a group of wood frogs.

I’m sure you’re familiar with frogs. We’ve all seen green frogs and bullfrogs in lakes and ponds during the summer. Well, wood frogs are a little different. Instead of being green, to blend in with the weeds that grow in ponds, wood frogs are a tan brown so they can blend in with the dead leaves on the forest floor. You see, unlike the big green frogs, wood frogs don’t spend much time in ponds.

Instead, they roam through the forests of our area in search of insects and spiders that they can eat. The only reason that wood frogs look for water in the spring is so they can lay their eggs. The males are the first to go looking for good spots. When they find a suitable breeding pool, they start singing, which attracts females and other males. As it turns out, the songs of the males can also attract people to pools they might otherwise not have known about.

Now you’ve probably heard the songs of spring peepers at this time of year. Peepers can be extremely loud and their voices can carry great distances on warm spring evenings. Peepers are small enough to comfortably sit on your thumbnail and they are also tan in color. Wood frogs are the next size up. They could comfortably sit in the palm of your hand, but they could never balance on your thumb.

Keep your ears open for the strange sound of wood frogs singing from the vernal pools in wooded areas. They won’t sing these songs much longer, but if you remember where you heard the songs coming from, there is always the chance that you could revisit the area and look for pollywogs in the same pools in a couple of weeks. After that, however, the chances of seeing a wood frog drop dramatically.

Bill Danielson has worked as a naturalist for 16 years. In that time, he has been a national park ranger, a wildlife biologist and a field researcher. He currently works as a high school chemistry and biology teacher. His Speaking of Nature column runs weekly in The Recorder, except for the first Thursday of each month, which is when his Kids and Critters column for young readers appears. To contact Bill, or to learn more about his writing, visit www.speakingofnature.com

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