We all wait for it every spring, that day when you hear the words spreading across Muskoka:
“We Have Peepers!”
Our evening air will be filled with the chorus of “peeping” frogs that lift our spirits with proof that spring has officially arrived. Not the official calendar date (that happens in March), but the natural date when the snow is gone, the ice has melted, the temperature is rising and we are serenaded by the songs of nature. Along with seeing your first robin, hearing your first peeper is proof that there will actually be a spring this year.
A favourite spring ritual in Muskoka is to go for an evening walk and take in nature’s magical concert. The unmistakeable “peep, peep, peep” can be heard as much as a kilometre away. If you manage to get up close it can be so loud its hard to even hold a conversation.
You only hear the peepers in the early spring as it is the call of male peepers trying to entice the females. These tiny frogs (about the size of a paper clip) are looking to mate and lay their eggs in the water before retreating to the forest where they spend the rest of year. When we say tiny, we mean tiny. The largest peeper on record was only 3.7 centimetres long. You can learn about Peepers in Ontario, by visiting www.ontarionature.org.
Each spring the male peeper claims his own territory in a swamp (or shallow water) and starts calling with his mighty voice. The rest of the males in the area join in creating a sizeable choir. All in an effort to attract the ladies.
The spring peeper is light brown in colour with a an “x-shaped” marking on its back (darker). When they “peep” a huge pouch (vocal sac) under its mouth inflates up to be nearly as large as the actual frog. This acts as an acoustic resonator allowing the tiny frog to emit such a loud and shrill chirp. Their chirp is very consistent occurring at evenly spaced intervals between 40 and 50 times a minute at exactly the same pitch.
Peepers are nocturnal, hiding from predators during the day and coming out at night to feed on insects. It would seem that their loud mating call would attract predators. This is why they have chosen early spring to mate, when there are less predators active.
Since it is early spring, the peeper is also faced with potentially cold (freezing) evenings. Remarkably the peeper has evolved to be able to keep itself frozen alive. It can stay alive up to a week in a frozen state and then thaw out and continue hoping around. Crazy!