Late winter passes at a snail’s pace for many. With the cold February wind rattling bare canopies, the vitality of nature seems to have left with the geese back in November. But to those of us who know what to look for, and listen for, spring suggests itself long before April’s dogwood blooms.
The first warm rains of late winter summon a chorus of “ringing bells” – the chorus of spring peepers.
Spring peepers usually begin their vernal serenade in late February and they may be the earliest sign of winter’s conclusion. Like many other amphibians, spring peepers breed when it is still too cold for most predators. That means peepers must be able to cope with occasional sub-freezing temperatures, especially in the northernmost reaches of their range. They cope by being able to allow their body fluids freeze, withstanding temperatures as low as 17 degrees Fahrenheit.
Hardly more than one inch long, peepers’ coloration can be orange, brown or tan, but the best way to identify them is by the dark “X” on their back (see photo top left of this article), which is the origin of the specific epithet in their scientific name “crucifer”, referring to the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. They do have toe pads for climbing although they spend most of their lives near the forest floor. During dormancy, spring peepers spend their time nestled in rotting logs.
Listen for spring peepers in late February evenings. If you’ll listen, spring peepers assure us that spring is on the move, even when frosty mornings suggest otherwise.
Hunter S. Bridges
ou can look for them calling just above shallow pools. They will surly stop calling as you approach so you will need a keen eye to spot one. If you get close, sit still for a few minutes and the peepers will resume their song, and when they do, sneak a little closer. Repeat the process until you finally spot one!