The sounds of spring are music to my soul. One of the first things that I listen for is the mating call of the Northern Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer crucifer Wied).
When I hear the first peeps from the little wetland across the road from my house, I know spring is really here. I leave my window open a crack, so I can fall asleep to the cadence of the tiny males calling to the females as they begin their annual mating ritual.
Peepers are common all over Nova Scotia, are the smallest of the eight species of frogs in Nova Scotia, and is the only tree frog species we have in our province.
Take a look at your own thumbnail and you will see how very small these wee peepers are. They are found in brown or gray colours, both appearing with dark stripes on the sides of their heads and dark X-shaped markings on their backs. If you are very lucky to see a male during spring breeding, you will see the dark brown or black throat with yellow flecks on it. The eyes are located on the sides of their heads, which is different from other frogs whose eyes are on the top of their heads. This is also how you can tell peeper tadpoles from the other frog tadpoles. Tadpoles are smaller and lighter in colour relative to other frog tadpoles, and have speckled throats. Peeper tadpoles are around from April until August, and are in their larval state for 90 to 115 days.
After a winter of hibernation in our woodlands, peepers emerge from March to April. As they make their way to perch on grasses at the edges of ponds or roadside ditches, the males begin their loud peeping calls. Their markings and tiny size provides the perfect camouflage in the dead spring grasses. The warmer the night, the more peepers I will hear. On a cooler night, I hear fewer of them as they shelter under leaves and stems.
After the spring mating is done, the tiny females lay about 1000 eggs on twigs and leaf litter on the bottom of ponds and ditches.
Then the adults go back to the woods in rural areas, or shrubs in suburban gardens, where they spend the summer, fall and winter. You may hear males still peeping from trees, from where they cling with their adhesive toe pads. I wonder if the inventor of Velcro got the idea from tree frogs.
Peeper tadpoles are found in loose groups in or near vegetation in shallow still waters. They develop quickly and you can find them doing their amazing metamorphosis from July into September. Newly formed peepers are about a half an inch long. Adults can get to almost an inch and a half.
Moth larvae, spiders and water midges are main dining foods for the little peeper.
Along with other amphibians, spring peepers are among this group of ‘indicator species’ because they are sensitive and vulnerable to negative changes in our environment. Tracking these amphibians helps us catch changes occurring in our environment. The northern spring peeper is not just telling us that spring is here, it is also an important link to the survival of our own human species.
The Shubenacadie Wildlife Park welcomes you to visit the Greenwing Legacy Centre to learn more about the importance of our local wetlands.
For more information on the Northern Spring Peeper, please visit: https://novascotia.ca/museum/amphibians/en/frogs/peeper.asp ;