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COLUMN: Nature’s corner - Peepers mark the arrival of spring

— Given the mild winter we have had, it might be hard to determine when winter has ended and spring has begun. The flocks of migrating snow geese can be seen by the thousands and the trees have started to bud, marking the end of the sugaring season. But possibly, it’s the robin or the amphibian world that makes us truly feel that spring is here. The constant peep of the spring peeper is to many the first sign that spring has arrived.

The spring peeper is no bigger than a quarter and typically sports an 'X' on its tan and brown back. Its species name, crucifer, was chosen because “crucifer” in Latin means “cross bearing.” It spends the winter in the leaf litter on the forest floor in a type of partly-frozen hibernation, emerging with its message of spring’s arrival.

Only the males sing and their call is a long whistling peep that slurs upward at the end, lasting just a fraction of a second, but repeated up to 4,500 times a night. The faster and louder a male sings, the more likely he is to attract a mate. Older, larger males tend to call at a much faster rate than younger, smaller males, making them more attractive to females.

The intensity of calling increases and can become a deafening chorus during humid evenings or just after a warm spring rain when many males congregate. A chorus of peepers is characterized by 15-minute to a half-hour periods of calling with five to 10 minutes of silence. When calling, males tend to separate their individual notes from those of nearby males, thus reducing any interference.

For all their abundance and strong voices peepers are still, to many people, the unseen messengers of spring. However, with just a little effort, the tiny tree frogs can be spotted and observed. Though their chorus can consist of 1,000 individuals, it is almost impossible to find them in any concentration. You are more likely to find just one lone, little peeper.

Spring Peeper Prowl

6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 25

Join a Beaver Lake Naturalist during this evening walk, to listen for one of the first signs of spring, the high-pitched whistle of a spring peeper. We'll also try to locate one of these tiny tree frogs and discuss their daily and seasonal lives. $2 per person; registration required. Call Beaver Lake at 638-2519 for more information.

Heidi Kortright handles public relations for Beaver Lake Nature Center. Call her at 638-2519.

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