OHIO OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK
By Laura Jones, Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Longer days and warmer temperatures get the heartstrings humming
in Ohio’s frogs and toads
In Ohio, perhaps no season is as welcomed as spring, when warmer temperatures and sunny skies bring us a renewed sense of life. And, for one segment of our animal world frogs and toads the season is even more celebrated. Across the state, these amphibians are awakening from their long winter naps loudly proclaiming that spring has returned.
Like an alarm clock, rising temperatures mixed with spring rains rouse these cold-blooded creatures from a winter spent buried beneath mud at the bottom of a pond, tucked away under a blanket of dirt or wrapped in leaf litter on the forest floor.
Just as it is for many living things, spring is a time of renewal for frogs and toads, which emerge from hibernation eager to peep, chirp and cheep their way into attracting a mate. Almost all amphibians need water or very moist areas for breeding, so once conditions are right they leave hibernation and vamoose to some nearby source of water.
The word amphibian means “double-life,” in reference to living both on land and in water. Ohio has 12 species of frogs and two species of true toads. As amphibians, frogs and toads are related, but they differ in a variety of ways. Frogs have smooth, slick skin; live in or near water and have long, strong hind legs. Toads, on the other hand, have dry, bumpy skin; live primarily on land and have short hind legs and no, you cannot get warts if you touch a toad!
As with birds, you can learn to identify frogs and toads by their calls. The best time to go listening is at sundown. Keep your ears open as you stroll through your neighborhood, a nearby park or past an open field and have fun trying to identify these springtime crooners.
Not sure which web-toed Romeo is making the racket? Visit ohiodnr.com and search “amphibians” to hear Ohio’s frogs and toads. If amphibians really get you hooked, then consider being a volunteer for the Ohio Frog and Toad Calling Survey.
The spring peeper is one of the first “froggy” voices to reaffirm warmer days are just around the corner. Like all cold-blooded animals, spring peepers are unable to regulate their own body temperature, meaning they are only as warm (or as cold!) as the environment around them. Leaving hibernation too early would mean almost certain death. Come late February or early March, spring peepers can be found in ponds, flooded ditches and marshes. Despite being small enough to fit on a dime, spring peepers produce a robust series of short, high-pitched, one-syllable whistles that can be heard at great distances. Their chorus is often likened to a “jingle” of bells.
When on an amphibian expedition whether walking or driving keep in mind that your movements might startle the amphibian chorus into abrupt silence. But don’t worry, these croakers haven’t gone anywhere. Just stop what you’re doing, stay quiet, and their singing will start up again in short order.
When calling for a mate, frogs and toads force air from their lungs through the vocal cords, which vibrate and cause sound. Along the way, air passes into the vocal sac beneath their chins, which serves as a resonator and increases the call’s volume. The large American bullfrog sounds like it’s calling for a “jug-o-rum,” while the equally prolific green frog, makes a distinctive “gungk,” like that of a loose banjo string.
One frog that truly appreciates the spring thaw is the wood frog. Having spent the winter with 45 percent of it body water turned to ice, its eyes and brain frozen solid, and its heart and lungs stopped cold, it is one of the earliest amphibians to leave hibernation! Handsome by frog standards, the wood frog has a raccoon-like mask across its eyes. Most often found among pools of water in the forest, their song is a series of short clucks and chortles that might remind you of a duck-like “quack.”
Did you know that amphibians don’t need to drink water? Instead they absorb it through their skin.
The American toad is found throughout Ohio, taking up residence in backyards and remote woodlands across the state. Not only is it the most common toad, it isn’t picky about where it breeds either, utilizing just about anything that holds water, from natural ponds and wet depressions to rain-filled dishes or containers. The American toad’s stubby body is colored in variations of tan, brown and gray. They have rounded spots on their backs from which sprout one or two warts. Its call is a prolonged, high-pitched trill that can last up to 20 seconds.
No toads or frogs calling in your neighborhood? Then take a trip to a state nature preserve, park, wildlife area or state forest where the air is filled with the melodious calls of amphibian love.