Before the birds come back from their tropical vacations, and before many spring flowers have poked their heads through the cold ground, there’s a raucous party happening in the woods that you might not be aware of!
Some people may have heard a peep or two from their first spring peeper on one of the warmer days recently, or what they thought was a duck quacking back in the woods (probably a brave wood frog waking up). This is just a hint of what’s to come, though – what we’re really waiting for is the Big Night.
What’s Big Night? It’s the night (or several nights) when the conditions are right and mother nature gives the signal to some amphibians, like wood frogs, spring peepers, and mole salamanders to wake up from their frosty slumber in the leaf litter and get moving! In order to do so the conditions must be right: a warmish rainy evening when the temperatures are above 40 make for the perfect conditions for these sensitive critters to move. The frogs and salamanders often travel up to a half mile to get to woodland pools for breeding.
Some species, like the wood frogs and spotted salamanders, are dependent on very specialized temporary wetlands to breed in. These small wetlands are created when the winter thaw and the spring rains fill up depressions in the woods. Because these wetlands generally don’t have an inlet or an outlet, they do not support fish, so they are essentially little nurseries for the frogs and salamanders that are successful in making their way there to lay eggs.
Unfortunately, these habitats are often fragmented by roads, and it can be a dangerous expedition for these small amphibians to make. But you can help the frogs and salamanders by being a citizen science road crossing guard, with the Amphibian Migration and Road Crossing project! If you have seen a stretch of road where on a rainy night it looks like a wave of frogs coming out of the woods, please think about taking some time to stop and help these little critters safely find spring love! For more information on the project watch this video and contact John Horton for an informational packet.
Here are some other interesting tidbits:
- The male frogs are the ones making all the noise, trying to attract females to the pools
- Spring peepers are the smallest frog we have, at about an inch, yet the females can lay between 750-1500 eggs each year
- Wood frogs are typically between 1.5 to 3 inches in length, and lay up to 3000 eggs in a season
- Once they breed and lay their eggs they move back to the forest where they spend the majority of the rest of the year, you might be lucking enough to find a spring peeper hanging out in trees and shrubs or wood frogs and spotted salamanders might be found in the leaf litter or under a log
- In winter they dig down into the leaf litter or under logs and they have an anti-freeze like substance in their system which allows them to endure freezing winter temperatures
- The secretive spotted salamander, a 6-8 inch long dark grey salamander with bright yellow spots; these chubby creatures spend most of their adult lives underground in mixed hardwood forests, laying around 100 eggs.