Chorus of the Peepers

04/22/02 12:00AM By John Dillon
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(Host) An unseasonable heat wave has brought the sounds of spring to Vermont earlier than usual. Millions of tiny tree frogs have expanded their vocal sacs in hope of finding a mate.

As VPR's John Dillon reports, it's the chorus of the peepers.


(Sound of peepers.)

(Dillon) The warm temperatures of mid-April brought the peepers out early from their hibernation in the hardwoods. The thumbnail-sized frogs came down to the beaver dams, the wetlands, and the small ponds.

Middlebury College biologist Jim Andrews says nature's din is all about sex:

(Andrews) "So these males are all saying 'Here's the party! Here's where all the action is! Come over to my corner of the pond!'"

(Dillon) Only the male peepers peep. And they can't hear each other. But the females can, and they can distinguish between five or six different calls:

(Andrews) "One thing that's kind of neat, really, is that when the females select their mates, some studies have shown that they are not selecting based on pitch, which some amphibians do. The deeper more resonant pitch is the ones that attract them, which would be the larger males. In this case, in the peepers, it seems to be the rate at which they're calling, the vigor, that attracts them."

(Dillon) But all is not fair in love and peep. The loudest doesn't always get the girl. Some males use other tactics. They're the silent type:

(Andrews) "They just sit there, wait for a female to come along and then get the attention of that female and mate with that female before it can approach the male it was headed toward."

(Dillon) Andrews knows, because he's the author of the Vermont Reptile and Amphibian Atlas. We call them peepers; their scientific name is pseudacris crucifer. But for most Vermonters, the tiny amphibians are simply the harbingers of spring:

(Andrews) "I think it's the most recognized frog in Vermont. It's the one that kind of signals the end of the maple sugaring season. The "frog run" is a term that people use because the night time temperatures are getting above freezing which means the sap's not running.... So it's a sound that I think most Vermonters are pretty well tuned into."

(Dillon) After a long Northeast winter, no one minds a little volume to announce the new season. Because a little later on – by the end of May – the big spring sing will be over.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon in Ferrisburgh.

(Sound of song, "Jeepers Creepers")
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