Friday, March 20, 2009

Awaiting the spring peepers

A vet that I work with, and admitted amphibian nut, reported yesterday in a company-wide email that he has heard the first spring peepers of the year. This man lives about 50 miles south of me, so it may be a week or so before we hear them in our neck of the state. But each year I not-so-patiently await them, it's a bigger sign of spring for me than seeing the first robin.

The spring peeper is a tiny tiny frog. The only time I've ever been able to find one in the wild (although I haven't really trekked out in the middle of the night to find one lately) is way back in college and it was no bigger than my thumb nail. They hibernate all winter and come out to breed when the air temperature starts to hit a steady 50 degrees.
And then they gather in enormous numbers in vernal pools, "wicked big" puddles, as we call them here in Massachusetts, that form from rainwater and snow melt that exist only in the spring and evaporate before the end of summer. Starting around dusk in mid-March you might hear one, then two, then hundreds of singular "PEEPS!!". And those are the spring peepers. Their voice a billion times louder than their little bodies. When I hear that noise I throw open my windows, toss an extra blanket on the bed and sleep very deeply knowing spring is here.

After the cacophony of sound they breed, lay their gelatinous egg masses and hop away into the night. Because vernal pools are isolated and not connected to streams or rivers they are free of fish. Without this protection the tadpoles would never survive. Vernal pools are fun places to check out, if you've never been to one all you have to do is fine a huge puddle, often very close to a road, and peer into the middle. If you see an odd object that looks like this you've found a vernal pool!

If you're very very lucky you'll even see one of my favorite, although less vocal animals (in fact I've handled hundred of these animals and I've only ever heard a very soft growl): the spotted salamander. These are beautiful creatures who share the vernal pool's breeding water with the peepers .

They have the most adorable faces, how could you not love this guy?

Unfortunately, as with all amphibians, their future is uncertain for all the usual suspects of habitat loss and global warming. And more specific problems of being run over by cars on their spring-time migration (some towns build tunnels in busy crossing areas!) and even salted roads that change the salinity of their nearby breeding pools. But at least this spring I know the peepers are back somewhere in the state, and I will eagerly await their deafening call of "we're here!" And the first really rainy night when the air is at least 50 degrees I just might grab my rain coat and head in to the woods to see all the action. The "Big Night", as we amphibian-nuts like to call it, is serious fun. I'm not kidding! So go grab your rain coat and flashlight, watch where you're walking, and be ready to see some frogs and salamanders.

Even though amphibians are generally declining around the world we have a wonderful local environmental education organization called Kestrel that's teaching kids from all over Massachusetts' North Shore to love vernal pools and all their creatures. For an adventurous field trip check out what the Kestrel team is up to!


  1. I too can't wait for that noise! Promise me spring IS on it's way? I want to sit out on my porch with you and my favorite two ft. tall girl!

  2. We found your peepers on Garden St. in West Newbury on our run. Loud little buggers.

  3. Yay!! I think I hear one right now, but there's so many birds along the river it's a bit of a cacophony out there! Maybe I'll poke my head outside after we turn all our lights off at 8:30....thanks!!


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