- Size: ½”-1 ½” long, females larger than males.
- Color: brown but sometimes green or grayish; dark, irregularly-shaped “X” on back; males have darker throat than females.
- Habitat: woods, meadows, sandy coasts, pine barrens, lawns, marshes, ponds, ditches, swamps, gravel pits.
- When and where to see them: actually more likely to hear them – head to Big John’s Pond at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, Blue Heron Park in Staten Island, kettle ponds at Alley Pond and Cunningham Parks, or John Muir Trail of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.
A sure sign of coming spring weather, the Spring Peeper is a joy with their cheerful – and almost deafening! — song. This little tree frog is only ½-1 ½” long, with smooth brown, green or grayish skin and an irregularly shaped “X” on its back. Males have darker throats and are smaller than females. In order to thrive both on land and water, their feet are webbed and toes have sticky pads to help them climb vegetation.
Spring Peepers are not fussy when it comes to habitat and are found in woods, meadows, sandy coasts, pine barrens, lawns, marshes, ponds, ditches, swamps and even gravel pits provided small invertebrates are available to eat. Unlike so many other species, they are fairly tolerant of human-altered habitats.
Male Spring Peepers break their winter silence and become active after the first spring rains, particularly around mid-March in New York. They defend small territories and belt out their songs 15-25 times per minute to attract a female. If an intruding male approaches the territory, the defender changes his tune to a trilled warning.
Their song is quite important, as females choose a mate based on his volume and the rapidity of the tune. She can carry up to 900 eggs and though she may choose a particular male, many are nearby and ready to mate. Spring Peepers breed from March through May after which they move to upland areas and defend small foraging territories around moss, logs, and leaf litter.
Females lay nearly microscopic, brown and cream-colored eggs, attaching them to underwater plants. Tiny, tan and bronze tadpoles with a speckled dorsal fin emerge within a week and over the next 2-3 months, they will go through metamorphosis, gradually maturing into an adult frog.
By October, the peepers prepare to hibernate in shallow soil. To protect themselves from freezing in cold temperatures, their bodies actually produce an antifreeze-like substance!
Spring Peepers may be heard near Blue Heron Park, the John Muir Trail in VanCortland Park, the kettle ponds of Alley Pond and Cunningham Parks. They were reintroduced to Big John’s Pond at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in the 1980s where they have established breeding (and singing!) populations. They are at their most vociferous on rainy or humid nights, or overcast, cool, damp days in early fall.
Thankfully their spring serenade does not appear to be in peril, despite their role in the food chain as sustenance for ribbon and northern snakes as well as larger frogs.
Nevertheless, they are frequent victims of cars and great care should be used when driving in their habitats.
- The Amphibians and Reptiles of New York State: Identification, Natural History, and Conservation by James P. Gibbs, Alvin R. Breisch, Peter K. Ducey, Glenn Johnson, John L. Behler, and Richard C. Bothner, published 2007 by Oxford University Press.
- Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City by Leslie Day, published 2007 by Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Wild New York: A Guide to the Wildlife, Wild Places, and Natural Phenomena of New York City by Margaret Mittelbach and Michael Crewdson, published 1997 by Three Rivers Press.
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