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The Song of the Frog

A spring peeper
March 21, 2016

Peep! Peep! Peep! What’s that high-pitched sound? Are there baby chickens around here?

More likely, what you’re hearing on an early spring day at The Morton Arboretum is the mating call of a spring peeper—a tiny frog, about an inch long, that lives near the lakes and marshes. You can hear them in the East Woods or near Crowley Marsh or any water at the Arboretum. 

The peepers, like many frogs, spend the winter partly frozen. When they warm up in spring, they start looking for love.

How does a frog find a mate? He sings. To amplify the sound, he inflates his throat with air until the skin stretches like a balloon, and his song may carry for a mile. When hundreds of frogs fight it out—musically—at the Arboretum, the springtime chorus of their songs can be spectacular. It’s an ideal time for families to take a nature walk.

Once they’ve mated, the females will lay eggs in the water. The eggs hatch into tadpoles that gradually become frogs, just as the tadpoles in Wonder Pond turn into toads.

Both frogs and toads sing, lay eggs in water, have tadpoles, and eat insects, says Kurt Dreisilker, head of natural resources. So what’s the difference?

Most toads have stubby bodies, short hind legs, and dry, warty skin, and live on land. Most frogs have shiny skin and longer hind legs, and live in or around water. But, Dreisilker points out, some kinds of toads live mostly in water and some frogs spend time in trees.

Frogs have good camouflage and many only venture out at night. So to find a frog, listen.

By early spring, the cheeps of spring peepers will combine into a high-pitched, pulsing wall of sound. If you hear a big, low, bass brr-whump, that’s a bullfrog. Gray tree frogs chatter like little monkeys. A high-pitched whirring, like the cicadas in summer? Those are western chorus frogs. 

Want to see even more frogs? Check out the 23 giant copper frogs of Ribbit! The Exhibit, opening April 8. 

Story from Seasons, Spring 2016. Seasons is a quarterly publication available to members. LEARN MORE