— by Joan Treichel, SRA Science Reporter
One of the joys of living along the Severn River is hearing male frogs awaken from their winter sleep and start croaking for mates.
Did you know that each frog species has its own language?
That’s what Jessica Nelson, a frog expert from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, told some 50 frog fans, including myself, during a recent virtual talk about Maryland frogs.
The talk was sponsored by the National History Society of Maryland.
For instance, spring peepers — “super cute little frogs,” in Nelson’s opinion — start calling “peep, peep, peep” in February and March. “You usually don’t see them, only hear them, loudly.”
Leopard frogs (below), in contrast, make chuckle-like croaks during February, March, and April.
Tree frogs make resonating trills, either raspy or musical, in early spring and summer.
Green frogs’ calls, which resemble broken banjo springs, are common from April through July.
And then there are the bullfrogs, the largest frogs in North America. They bellow “jug o’ rum” with great gusto. Their bellows can even be heard a quarter-of-a-mile away.
And as if all this stuff about frog calls isn’t “cool” enough, would you believe that frogs of the same species even speak in dialects? But yes, it’s true, Nelson insisted. “There are local dialects of calls.”
To keep all that frog talk along the Severn River coming, those frogs providing it, of course, need to stay healthy.
A fungus that attacks frogs’ skin is somewhat of a danger to frogs in Maryland, Nelson reported, but fertilizers are more of a concern because they “can cause deformities in tadpoles.”
Thus the best way that homeowners along the Severn, as well as in other areas of Maryland, can keep frogs healthy, Nelson advised, is to forego monoculture lawns and develop their yards into natural habitats.
(Moreover, if you add a little fishpond to your natural habitat, frogs will thank you for it, I have found. Seven years ago, I created a mini-pond in my backyard by placing a horsefeeder in the earth, then filling the horsefeeder with water. Ever since, frogs have enjoyed it. In fact, one frog lived in my mini-pond for four years. She got so tame that I could feed her earthworms!)
If you are passionate about frogs, you might even want to become a certified Frogwatch volunteer, Nelson suggested.
This means that you would learn how to identify frog calls in your backyard or another area close by, listen for them during evenings from February through August, then submit your findings to a national online database maintained by Frogwatch USA.
Scientists then evaluate and interpret the database. Their interpretations provide not only insights into how frogs are faring in various parts of the country, but into how wetlands in general in those areas are doing.
Although Frogwatch USA has collected 20 years’ worth of data from a number of states, not much information has been amassed from Maryland. “So we definitely need more volunteers,” Nelson said.
Frogwatch USA is sponsored by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. To visit their website, click here.