by Barbara Walvoord
From Lathrop Lamp Post March 23, 2017
Spring nights at Lathrop ring with the chorus of spring peepers– little tree frogs that emerge from their winter hiding places in mud, logs ,or tree holes. An antifreeze in their blood has kept them alive, though partly frozen, during the winter.
Unfrozen now, they head for a pond to mate. The gals choose the guy who sings loudest and fastest. With a vocal sac under his mouth that is almost as big as he is, he peeps about 20 times a minute. The chorus can be heard up to 2.5 miles.
That beautiful sound makes humans happy to know that spring has arrived, and predators happy that the spring banquet is ready. The poor, sex-crazed singers may be gulped down by snakes, salamanders, large carnivorous insects, hawks, and other birds. Their defense is to call together, which makes it hard for a predator to locate any single peeper.
As in other musical groups, there’s rivalry as well as harmony; males make another kind of peep to warn their singing brothers–you’re too close to my territory.
When the lucky singer gets chosen, the female will nudge him. He gets on her back and rides her all the way into the water, so that no other male can mate with her. Once in the water, he fertilize her eggs as she lays about 1,000 of them, either singly (!) or in groups, and attaches them to vegetation.
Now the adults return to their hiding places in the woods, relying on their silence and their camouflaging colors to keep them safe, and emerging at night to eat spiders, ants, beetles, and flies, which they catch with their sticky tongues and swallow whole.
Meanwhile, down at the pond, the eggs will hatch in 6-12 days. The tadpoles stay in the water for 90-100 days, eating algae, dead plants, bacteria, fungi, zooplankton, flesh from dead organisms, and even sand, and being eaten by beetles, salamanders, water snakes, dragonfly larvae, leeches, and water bugs. To escape notice by these predators, the tadpoles dart quickly in short spurts and then remain motionless for long periods.
This natural cycle of singing and silence, hiding and moving, eating and being eaten, is highly susceptible to another danger–surface water run-off that may carry chemical and pesticides, or silt that can kill adults, eggs, or tadpoles. So at Lathrop, we can support our wonderful spring concerts, not only by donating to our music committee, but also by following good soil erosion practices, avoiding chemicals and fertilizers, and nurturing the native plants and insects this complex food chain requires.