Quack, Quack, Quack … Peep, Peep, Peep … No, that’s not the sound coming from a barn yard. That sound is the chorus coming from frogs calling from wetlands and vernal pools and echoing out through the wooded landscapes.
Awakening from a long winters nap from under leaf litter and decaying logs, the wood frogs make their way to wetlands to begin the annual mating ritual. The louder the call, the more likely to entice and mate with a female. Quack… quack, quack…
On warm spring nights the sound can be almost deafening. When we hear that loud chorus we know Spring has finally arrived.
But, before the warm temps and April showers arrive something amazing has happened to the wood frog. In the late fall when the temperatures drop to freezing cold, the wood frog finds a safe place to hibernate through the winter by burrowing just a few inches into debris on the forest floor. Popular belief is that all frogs hunker down into the mud underneath the water in a pond. While it may seem to be a safe place to hide from a freezing cold winter, there is not enough oxygen to keep frogs alive.
The delicate skin of the frogs would freeze and kill them if they didn’t have a special natural defense, and their bodies undergo an amazing change. Sugars inside the cells form a protective barrier around the organs that will keep the frog from becoming a big ice cube. Ice crystals are dangerous and damage and kill cells. Anyone who has ever had 2nd to 3rd degree frost bite can relate to how painful that can be. Frostbite permanently damages tissue, and the cells will never recover.
Video: The first night I heard the spring peepers calling in the meadow this spring.
These special sugars coat the cells and the frog is safe from the arctic cold winters. When the temperatures rise above freezing, the sugars break down, allowing moisture in the cells to move around the body, and the frog’s heart begins to beat again. The wood frog “wakes up” and instinctively gravitates towards vernal pools and small ponds to begin the cycle of life all over again.
We learn a lot from nature.
The antifreeze we use in our vehicles was invented by studying the way the wood frog, and other similar species, have adapted to protect themselves from dangerous freezing temperatures.
Sadly, the very sensitive cells of frogs and salamanders (collectively called herps) are no match for the toxic mess humans create and dispose of into their habitats. Fertilizers, pesticides, and cleaning agents, among a myriad of other nasty chemicals are detrimental to these species causing horrible death and those that survive pass on genetic deformities. This is a very big and serious topic, worthy of another post at a later time.
In the meantime, the sounds of spring are soothing to hear after a long cold winter. That loud chorus echoing through the trees and coming through the open window on soft warm breezes during a spring night is a relaxing way to fall asleep.
As always, please be mindful and respectful to property and wildlife.
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