Critter Corner No. 17


The Praying Mantis
by
George Sly

Mantis 1

Past episodes of Critter Corner have dealt with some of the mammals, reptiles, and amphibians of GPFWA. One might claim that I have missed the boat by not acknowledging the presence, and importance, of members of the largest taxonomic group of animals on the planet – the insects. Fans of these creatures would have a good argument. With nearly one million described species, the insects make up around 80% of all the species in the animal kingdom. I would argue that they are also the most biologically successful fauna on the planet as well.

 We humans commonly measure success in terms of social status, income, political influence, or by our contributions to the common good. But, how do we measure biological success?

It could be said that simply avoiding extinction, existing as a living species, is the mark of biological success. But this definition of success is not as straightforward as it might seem. Consider a group such as the dinosaurs. Extinct today (unless one counts their saurischian descendants, the birds), they were the dominant class of vertebrates on earth for 180 million years. This long tenure and their remarkable variety make it a bit difficult to think of them as a biologically unsuccessful group.

Perhaps using a series of measures would give us a clearer picture of a group’s degree of biological success? So it is that biologists typically examine four parameters in measuring the biological success of a given taxon or a species. These factors are geologic distribution, geographic distribution, number of species, and number of individuals.

 The geologic distribution of insects as determined by the fossil record reaches far back into deep time. The oldest fossil insects are nearly 400 million years old. In comparison, the oldest whale fossils date back about 50 million years and the fossil hominid Australopithecus three million years. So, as a group, insects have been around for quite a spell. They are exceedingly successful by this standard.

In terms of geographic distribution, the insects are again phenomenally successful. They are found on every continent on earth as well as in every imaginable habitat. Granted, they are rare in Antarctica and are outnumbered in the oceans by the crustaceans. But visit any country on earth, any biome within that country, and you are likely to encounter insects in abundance.

I have already noted the tremendous species diversity found among the insects. There are 200 times more insect species than mammal species and they outnumber both the birds and the reptiles by a power of 100. This is again a highly positive manifestation of biological success.

I would venture to guess that many of you, watching a swarm of midges or a marching column of ants, have wondered just how many insects there are in the world. Of course it is only an estimate, but my quick search on the Internet (www.si.edu) yielded an estimate of 10 quintillion individual insects alive at any one time. That’s a 10 followed by eighteen zeros. Incidentally, if we could weigh all the insects alive on earth at any one time, their biomass would be greater than that of all the vertebrates – elephants and whales included. By the standard of number of individuals, insects are again a highly successful group indeed!

Of course Mantis 2there are many, many insects I could choose as the first Critter Corner representative of their kind and I do hope in future to include more. But let me begin with one of my favorites – the Praying Mantis. Perhaps mantises, or mantids, would be a better term since there are over 2000 species worldwide. Like most other animal taxa, the mantids have achieved their greatest species diversity in the tropics. At Goose Pond FWA, you are likely to encounter only a couple of species. These are the native Carolina Mantis and the introduced Chinese Mantis. 

 Perhaps, as an impressionable 11 year old, I shouldn’t have watched the 1957 sci fi classic The Deadly Mantis. (trailer at www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBos7oKAn_w). Henceforth, I was mesmerized by the frightening visage and voracious feeding habits of this animal. Even today, many decades later, I cannot encounter a Praying Mantis and resist the urge to stop, observe, and simply contemplate its exquisite adaptations for the lifestyle of a top predator. Recalling scenes from the movie, I can readily anthropomorphize the reaction of a hapless butterfly confronted by a ravenous mantis. They really do make a nightmarish science fiction “monster”. Mantises are stealthy, quick to strike, powerful, and rapacious; what a combination.

 And, before we go any further, what about that name? Doubtless you have seen these insects also referred to as a Preying Mantis. I have not been able to determine which is preferable or even most appropriate. The website What’s That Bug? (www.whatsthatbug.com/2006/10/29/preying-versus-praying/)
suggests this is a classic example of why biologists prefer to use scientific names. A species will have only one scientific name no matter what language is being used in the discussion. Praying Mantis seems to me to be the more commonly used appellation. This is in reference to the oversized forelegs legs which are powerfully developed, and fearfully armed with spines in order to grasp their prey.  At rest, these legs are held in a position which reminds one of a prayerful posing of the arms and hands, thus the common moniker.

 
 Most mantids are ambush hunters which lie in wait with their ferocious forelimbs held upright poised to snatch any unwary prey that comes within range. They most commonly feed on other insects such as flies, bees, butterflies, crickets, and grasshoppers. Mantids may be cannibalistic and some species are large enough to tackle small birds and lizards. Since Praying Mantises rely on sight to hunt they are most active in the daytime (diurnal). Their vision is well-developed and stereoscopic at close range. The peripheral units of their compound eyes are quite sensitive to motion. This helps them detect their prey and they can swivel their head to more closely focus on a potential food item. I think this ability to turn the head and look back at us is one of their most fascinating adaptations. It seems to me to give them an aura of intelligence that is normally missing when compared with the expressionless, unmoving eyes of a typical insect.

 Praying Mantis adults are killed by the onset of freezing weather and the next generation overwinters as eggs. These are protected within an egg case (oothecum) that very much reminds me of the foam insulation one can buy in a pressurized can. The frothy eggs case is secreted around the eggs as they are laid and soon hardens into a protective covering. You may find these by wondering about in old field or prairie habitat and looking for the brownish, foam-like case attached to a plant stem. These egg cases usually have the appearance of accordion folds on their surface. I have collected these in the spring, held them in a jar, and been rewarded with the amazing sight of hundreds of tiny, miniature Praying Mantises scrambling about upon emerging from the oothecum. Releasing these into one’s garden provides a natural deterrent against insect pests too.

 Praying Mantises have their enemies. Arthropods such as spiders and ants will attack them. Vertebrates including frogs, lizards, and birds will also eat mantises. Although mainly diurnal, mantises may sometimes fly at night. They are attracted to lights and males may travel nocturnally in search of females. At this time, bats may prey on them. Research has shown that some mantises have the ability to hear the echolocation sounds produced by bats. Upon detecting a foraging bat, such mantids will begin a series of descending, avoidance spirals toward the ground (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantis).

Praying Mantises commonly avoid predators through protective coloration or camouflage. The green of the Chinese Mantis for example enables it to seamlessly blend with the vegetation upon which it sits. Among other mantis species, mimicry may have evolved. Often these protective disguises are extreme with the mantis physically resembling a leaf or a flower. These masquerades remind us of the power of natural selection to shape earth’s fauna and flora in ways that enhance their owner’s chances of survival.

Though certainly not to be seen at GPFWA, I close with a striking example of mantis mimicry. One of my favorite Praying Mantis species is the Southeast Asian form known as the Malaysian Orchid Mantis. Although not obligated to perch upon orchids, the structure

  Mantis 3Chi’en Lee/Getty Images


and coloration of this species allows it to stealthily lie in wait upon a flower for the unwary approach of a potential meal. An insect may even mistake the mantis for a flower and glide with intention toward its demise. This species is a wonderful example of the stunning variety, delicate beauty, and mind-boggling adaptations we find among the insects we call Praying Mantises.

Critter Corner No. 16

Critter Corner No. 16
The Prairie Kingsnake
by
George Sly
 
king-snake
Photo Courtesy of Missouri Dept. of Conservation
My earliest recollection of meeting a snake, one which I can identify to species, happened when I was just a youngster. Engaged in a lively outdoor game of hide and seek, I leaped over a roadside culvert and took shelter in the ditch below. As I lie in hiding, I casually glanced down and there, practically at my shoulder, peering up at me was a Prairie Kingsnake.  Even after these many years, I can recall that I had no feelings of alarm or upwelling of ophidiophobia . We gazed at each other with studied interest, perhaps each of us considering just how this close juxtaposition had so suddenly occurred. The stealthy, quiet presence of the serpent intrigued me. The lovely grayish-brown background color liberally marked by dark brown blotches rimmed with black glistened as only a newly shed snake can. Overall I was struck by its subtle beauty and mysterious manner. Now, as an adult, I look back on this encounter as the seminal event which not only revealed my innate lack of fear of snakes but initiated a life-long fascination with these animals. Although usually described as a comparatively mild mannered snake, my next notable childhood encounter with Lampropeltis calligaster* did not validate this. Perhaps the little fellow I met had gotten up on the wrong side of the kingsnake bed. It didn’t take kindly to my reaching to pick it up and I received two or three rapid bites to the hand. I got the message and held no grudge. Sometimes I’m a little cranky in the morning too. Nevertheless, whenever I happen upon a Prairie Kingsnake, these two childhood encounters always come to mind.
 At first thought, you might think that Goose Pond FWA with its vast wetlands would be an unlikely place to find a snake with “prairie” as its first name. But GPFWA, recently expanded to nearly 9000 acres, has considerable variety in regards to the habitat types it offers its wild inhabitants. Nearly 1400 acres of the property have been planted to prairie grasses and forbs. In late summer, this acreage presents a grand show as the blossoming Big Bluestem, Side-oats Grama,  Little Bluestem, and Indian grasses are joined by the vibrant flowers of Compass Plant, Rosinweed, Purple Coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, and Partridge Pea. So, it is true that the habitat that gives the Prairie Kingsnake its name, and was its original home, does exist at GPFWA. The geographic range of this snake in Indiana is restricted to the western one third of the state. Logically enough, this was the portion of the state which originally contained eastward extensions of the prairie biome.
Nowadays, the species isn’t so particular and can be found in oldfield habitat too. Such fields are typically abandoned agricultural fields grown to a mixture of herbaceous plants such as Goldenrod, Boneset, Ironweed, and Marestail. There may be Blackberry and even a few shrubs such as Multiflora Rose and Sumac in the mix. One might even find the Prairie Kingsnake in fields along the edge of woodlands, pastures, orchards, railroad rights-of-way, and grassy fields. Other good places to look for this species are under old boards, metal siding or roofing, and refuse near buildings. They are all favorite places to take refuge for this snake.
 Like all members of its kind, the Prairie Kingsnake is a predator and serves an important ecological role in helping to control rodent populations. Voles of the genus Microtus are often eaten. The Prairie Vole is perhaps the most common mammal at GPFWA so there is certainly a good prey supply for the snakes. In addition to mice, birds, their eggs, and frogs may be taken. Of course, kingsnakes have their enemies too. Among the predators which will take them are red-tailed hawks, raccoons, striped skunks, and opossums. The latter three are especially likely to focus on eggs and young of the snake. In at least one case , a ground squirrel had preyed upon a Prairie Kingsnake.
 Our state’s preeminent herpetologist, the late Sherman Minton Jr., thought Prairie Kingsnakes to be at their activity peak on the mild, sunny days of spring. Spring is a prime time for this, and other snake species, to lie on roads in order to bask. This behavior is obviously quite dangerous for the snake as many drivers make little attempt to avoid basking serpents. Later in the summer Minton found that Prairie Kingsnakes often used rodent burrows during the day and became more active in the morning and evening twilights. Animals active at these times of day are said to be crepuscular. Like many other reptiles, Prairie Kingsnakes are oviparous meaning that they reproduce by laying shelled eggs. The shell of snake eggs tends to be rather leathery unlike the brittle, fragile egg shell of birds. Ten or 11 eggs are typically laid with hatching occurring in late summer after a month and a half of development.
 In their wonderful little book on Indiana snakes, MacGowan and Kingsbury remind us that snake species in general are on the decline in Indiana. As is the case with many other declining plants and animals, habitat loss is the main culprit. They also cite other factors such as collecting by hobbyists, and pesticide usage. In Indiana, laws have been put into place regulating the collection of wild reptiles and amphibians. In most cases, if you are an adult taking any kind of herpetofauna from the wild, you must have a hunting or a fishing license. There are also possession limits. For more information refer to the DNR’s website at:
http://www.state.in.us/dnr/fishwild/3328.htm

I realize that not everyone is in their comfort zone when that space is being shared by a snake. However, I will argue that some rational thought is in order should you encounter a snake at GPFWA, or anywhere else for that matter. In all my years of experience with snakes, I have never been bitten unless I was handling the animal. Snakes do not seek out humans for intentional bites. This behavior is purely defensive. If you leave them alone and don’t try to touch, my experience has been that they will do the same for you.
Of the 32 species of serpents which inhabit Indiana, only four are venomous. These – the Copperhead, Massasauga Rattlesnake, Timber Rattlesnake, and Water Moccasin – are all pit-vipers. The latter three are rare snakes and your chances of meeting one exceedingly slim. Remember that many snakes vibrate their tail as a threat display and, under the right circumstances, might be mistaken for a “rattler”. Also note that non-poisonous water snakes, such as the Northern Water Snake found at GPFWA, are very commonly referred to in our area as “water moccasins”. They are not.
Regardless of your emotional feelings about snakes, they are perfect examples of the amazing power of natural selection to fashion predators of incredible stealth, marvelous camouflage, and precise functionality of form. As such they deserve our tolerance if not our admiration. Snakes play a major role within their ecosystems. As agents of population control, they help prevent the over-abundance of their prey. As prey items themselves, they supply needed sustenance to the species which perch above them on the food chain. Eliminating such vital links within the web of life can have unforeseen, and injurious, consequences. Perhaps, as human encroachment upon the natural world increases steadily, the serpents serve as a perfect reminder of the sage advice given by the great conservationist Aldo Leopold who said:
“The first law of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts.”

* Etymology of the scientific name courtesy of the Virginia Herpetological Society. Lampropeltis is derived from the Greek words lampros which means “radiant” and pelta meaning “small shields”. Species: calligaster is derived from the Greek words kallimos which means “beautiful” and gaster meaning “stomach”.
*********************************************
Those interested in snakes, or reptiles and amphibians in general, might find the following books useful.
Behler, John L. and F. Wayne King.
The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American
Reptiles and Amphibians.  
Alfred A. Knopf. New York.

Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins.    
A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians Eastern and
Central North America.   
Houghton Mifflin Co. New York.

Greene, Harry W. Snakes.
The Evolution of Mystery in Nature.
Univ. of California Press. Berkeley.

MacGowan, Brian and Bruce Kingsbury.
Snakes of Indiana.    
available at:  
www.state.in.us/ndr/fishwild.index.html. or  
www.agcom.purdue.edu/AgCom/Pubs

Minton, Sherman A., Jr.
Amphibians & Reptiles of Indiana.  
Indiana Academy of Sciences. Indianapolis.

Parker, H.W. and A.G.C. Grandison.   
Snakes – a natural history.
Cornell Univ. Press. Ithaca, NY

 

Critter Corner No. 15

Critter Corner No. 15
the Eastern Mole
by
George Sly

Most of the mammals which make Goose Pond FWA their home are secretive and seldom seen. The subject of this edition of Critter Corner is no exception. In fact, the Eastern Mole is made even more elusive by the nature of its fossorial (burrowing) behavior. Certainly we see the mounded earth and raised tunnels of this mammal but the maker of these telltale trails is itself seldom seen.

mole-1
 I must admit that I am intrigued by moles. Their subterranean existence, so strange and difficult for us creatures of the light to imagine, fascinates me. What must it be like to spend life in nearly perpetual darkness? How do they find food? How is it possible to burrow through solid ground? Why does their fur always seem so clean? What do they do in the winter when the ground is frozen? Yes, moles stimulate a lot of questions for me.

 Moles are found throughout much of the world and their clan consists of around 40 species. Here in the eastern United States we have three species but only the Eastern Mole is found at Goose Pond FWA. The Star-nosed Mole lives in NE Indiana while the Hairy-tailed Mole exists in eastern Ohio and Kentucky and on up into New England. Moles are closely related to shrews. That “baby mole” your cat brings to the doorstep, and then abandons, is likely not a mole but a Short-tailed Shrew.

 Our Eastern Mole bears the scientific moniker of Scalopus aquaticus. The genus name is derived from the Greek words for digging and foot and refers to the mole’s enormous forefeet. The specific name is apparently a bit of a misnomer. Various sources report that the specimen that Carolus Linnaeus (the “father of modern taxonomy”) used in naming the species was found dead in water. Although moles can swim they are not aquatic.  
 Of course any animal that has a highly specific lifestyle such as that of the Eastern Mole will likely have major adaptations for that mode of existence. Notable among these, as illustrated in the image below, are the somewhat flattened, wedge-shaped skull and the powerfully enlarged bones of the forelimbs. The muscles that power the front legs are tremendously developed. They give the animal the appearance of having heavily trained for some body-building competition; think Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. The relatively smaller hind legs are used for bracing during digging and to shuttle loose soil rearward and have less need for powerful development.

mole-2
The tail is somewhat long with external hairs which give it tactile ability useful when backing up in a tunnel. The silky body fur is adapted for shedding soil thus keeping the coat relatively clean.

 Moles do have eyes but they are reduced in size and the eyelids are fused shut over them. Thus they are barely functional and serve to detect light and darkness. Unlike most mammals moles have no external ears (pinnae). These would not be a good idea when burrowing through narrow tunnels and loose soil. They can hear and are also quite sensitive to vibrations in the ground. The sense of smell is well-developed and their nose is also exquisitely sensitive to touch. In fact, research has shown that moles have highly specialized nerve tissues forming what are called Eimer’s organs in the epithelium of their nose. These reach their highest degree of development in species such as the Star-nosed Mole shown here.
mole-3

In the Eastern Mole these organs are less developed and are covered by thicker epidermis. This is thought to be because of the differences in burrowing substrate of the two species; the Star-nosed being more often found in wetter, softer soil.

 The Eastern Mole is often blamed for damaging garden plants but is in fact more often a voracious predator. Its primary prey is earthworms. These creatures are sensitive to the movements of moles and I have actually seen them flee above ground and rapidly (for an earthworm) crawl away from a burrowing mole. I once ran across an interesting paper in an online journal in which author Kenneth Catania described how folks in the southern United States practice “worm grunting”. By vibrating a wooden stake driven into the ground they are able to force worms to the surface where they are collected for fishing bait. Catania concludes that the vibrating stake mimics the pulsations caused by burrowing moles thereby eliciting the earthworm’s escape behavior. Interestingly he also notes previous studies that suggest Wood Turtles and Herring Gulls “vibrate the ground to elicit earthworm escapes.”

 Other animals eaten by moles include scarab beetle grubs (including Japanese beetles), ground beetles, slugs, and centipedes. Some vegetation may be eaten particularly grass seeds.

 Eastern Moles can burrow 10 to 15 feet per hour and their surface runs are made as they search for food. Deeper burrows (10-18 in.) and chambers are used for rearing young and resting. In the winter, burrows are made below the frost line.

 Animals which have relative few predators often have lower rates of reproduction. Eastern Moles are an example and typically have one litter per year. The babies are born in the spring and usually number three to five. At least one study has indicated that moles may live more than five years. While predation is limited due to their burrowing habit, they do have their enemies. Among these are domestic dogs and cats. Owls also take moles and it is thought that they do so on those rare occasions when the former come to the surface.

Of course, when moles invade lawns, humans become a major threat to them as well. Their tunneling certainly complicates mowing the yard. Their underground burrows may also be used by voles which may then attack the root system of garden plants. The other side of this coin is the mole’s ability to destroy insect pests, slugs, and snails. In addition, their burrowing activity tills and aerates the soil and allows water penetration into deeper soil layers. In light of this, perhaps a little more tolerance for this highly interesting mammal is called for. Rolling their surface runs before mowing pretty much eliminates the issue of “skinned” lawns. It is certainly less expensive than buying traps or calling an exterminator and definitely more environmentally friendly that sowing poisonous baits. All it takes is a little more time and patience on our part coupled with a dose of willingness to share the earth with another of natural selection’s decidedly fascinating creations.  

Reference:
Catania, Kenneth C. 2008. Worm Grunting, Fiddling, and Charming—Humans Unknowingly Mimic a Predator to Harvest Bait.  PLoS ONE. 2008; 3(10): e3472.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2566961/

LEAST TERN CONSERVATION DONTATION BY FRIENDS OF GOOSE POND

The FRIENDS OF GOOSE POND BOARD recently voted to commission and pay for 30 new tern decoys. The decoys will assist the DFW Nongame Bird Biologists and their nesting island project for Federally Endangered Interior LEAST TERNS in Goose Pond FWA Main Pool West. Photos: a recently hatched Least Tern chick on the island, July 2015, courtesy of DFW Nongame Assistant Bird Biologist Amy Kerns. An adult Least Tern that fortuitously landed on a mudflat 100s of yards away from the island, August 2015, photo by Peter Scott using Lee Sterrenburg’s camera. Friends of Goose Pond is proud support the Nongame Wildlife Science’s LETE recovery project.

The 2014 DFW Wildlife Science Annual Report includes an overview explainig how the Indiana LETE nesting project operates:

Management of least terns, a federal- and state-endangered species, is challenging. It consists of maintaining nesting sites free of dense vegetation, using fencing and manipulating water levels to deter ground predators and employing least tern decoys to attract birds to suitable sites. These efforts have resulted in more than adequate production in eight out of the last nine years and a steadily increasing number of least terns in Indiana since their discovery in 1986. http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/files/fw-2014WildlifeScienceReport.pdf

–Lee Sterrenburg DNR bird monitoring volunteer Goose Pond

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Goose Pond Bioblitz

Goose Pond Bioblitz

These were some documentary shots taken of Goose Pond’s second Bioblitz on 6/18/16. Thank you Dave Fox for the wonderful photos.
Thanks to everyone for their hard work.


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Family Frog Gigging Event June 17, 2016

10th ANNUAL GOOSE POND FWA FAMILY FROG GIGGING EVENT JUNE 17, 2016

The popular annual Goose Pond FWA family frog gigging event will take place this year on Friday evening June 17, 2016. Advance pre-registration is required. Space is limited. Newcomers and adults and youth who have not done this event before are especially welcome. This is a great chance to get youth participants out experiencing wetlands at night, and with adult supervision and guiding. Friends of Goose Pond and funds from the Wabash Valley Community Foundation join the DNR in supporting the event. Refreshments and gigging equipment provided. Adult family members or adult chaperones who come along with the youth attendees will need a valid hunting or fishing license if they participate in the gigging but not if they are just are coming along to observe and chaperone. The DNR supplies experienced guides and will supply gigs to participants to take home. See the flier info below. Pass this notice along or share to anyone you think might be interested. To register and for more information call the Goose Pond FWA office at the number on the DNR announcement (812) 659-9901.

Friday June 17, 2016 8:30pm-12:00am
This is a pre-registration event. Limited spots available. Call (812) 659-9901 for details. Gigging equipment provided! Wear clothes and shoes you don’t mind getting wet and muddy!

Schedule of Events
8:30-8:45PM Welcome, Introductions & pairing of guides and participants
8:45-9:30 PM Safety presentation and review of regulations (Ice Cream, Cobbler & soft drinks provided by Friends of Goose Pond)
9:30-11:30PM Frog Hunting at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area
12:00 AM Frog cleaning, recipe distribution, and depart

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Critter Corner No. 14

 Critter Corner No. 14

The Chorus Frog and Spring Peeper

   by George Sly

I unabashedly love the spring season here in Indiana. The steady progression of natural events – from the first leaf buds and flowers to the onset of morels and the return of Neotropical migrants – leaves me fascinated, entertained, and in awe of Nature’s annual power of rejuvenation. But, if I had to pick one occurrenceFrog 1 that really signifies the onset of this favored season, it would be the re-emergence of two of our smallest Indiana vertebrates.

 According to my field notes the first, hesitant intonations of the Chorus Frog typically begin during the last week of February. Of course this is highly temperature dependent. With a warm spring, their calls may begin a week or two earlier. The Spring Peeper stays abed a bit longer than the Chorus Frog. The high-pitched whistles of this little anuran are added to the choral group a week or so later. Even then, I am often amazed at how these miniscule frogs manage to emit even their most plaintive calls when both he water and the early spring nights are so cold.

Frog2Most often these diminutive frogs choose shallow, ephemeral pools in which to do their chorusing. These pools may occur in flooded fields, roadside ditches, wooded hollows, and other low lying spots. Although such water is at risk of impermanence, temporary pools are unlikely to contain fish or turtles. Thus this choice of breeding habitat reduces the risk of predation upon eggs and larvae. Outside the breeding season both species are seldom seen. They move away from their breeding pools and spend much of their time hidden under leaf litter, tree bark, or other ground litter.

Of course reproduction is what all of their vocalization is about. Calling males of both species use their distinctive tones to establish a small breeding territory. Their calls are also meant to entice females to them. The call of the Chorus Frog (top photo) is most often likened to the sound produced by rubbing one’s finger across the teeth of a fine-toothed comb. The resultant “creeeeee-ick” rises in speed and pitch toward the end Although both frog species are often lumped as “peepers” by laymen, the call of the Spring Peeper more closely fits that description. Their call reminds me of a very high-pitched whistle repeated at intervals of 2-3 seconds. Sometimes a breeding pool of these frogs can produce a sound which, at close range, is almost deafening. Standing in the midst of such an aggregation, and trying to locate a single individual, is virtually impossible. Like trying to locate a chirping cricket, the cryptic nature of the sound makes for a difficult task.

The Chorus Frog (the Western subspecies at GPFWA) and the Spring Peeper are, as noted, quite small. Both have an adult body length of less than an inch. As a result, many people imagine that these are “baby” frogs of some sort. Of course, baby frogs are tadpoles and the young of these two species are no different. Like most other amphibians, these frogs practice external fertilization of their eggs. Anuran external fertilization is a bit more efficient than that of most fishes in that the former practice direct external fertilization. Among the fishes sperm is deposited into the water near the eggs or into the water over an egg-containing nest. With frogs (and toads), there is direct contact between males and females. The male grasps the female in an embrace know as amplexus. This brings their cloacal openings into close approximation. Thus, as the female lays her eggs, the male’s sperm can be more closely directed onto them. Both species under discussion here can produce hundreds of eggs. These are often affixed to pieces of vegetation in the water and appear as large globules of gelatinous material with the dark, oval eggs embedded within. The length of time necessary for the eggs to develop into tadpoles, and for the tadpoles to become froglets, varies with water temperature. The higher the temperature, the more rapidly the eggs and larvae develop. As a general rule, development takes a month or two.

The Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata) in our area are usually brownish in color dorsally with three dark stripes extending from the base of the head to the end of the body. The belly is lighter in color, trending more toward cream or whitish. The Spring Peeper (P. crucifer) has a dorsum which is a lighter in color than P. triseriata and is a more fawn or yellowish-brown hue. The back is marked by a dark “X” which gives the species its specific name. The thighs are usually marked by dark bars which abut the X-mark when the legs are folded at rest.

Like other anurans (frogs and toads), these two species are carnivorous. Being so small predicates small prey and so the Chorus Frog and Spring Peeper feed heavily on animals such as ants, flies, spiders, beetles, and lepidopteran (butterfly/moth0 larvae. Froglets utilize even tinier prey such as springtails and mites. Tadpoles of both species are primarily algae eaters. Both frogs are, in turn, preyed upon by a variety of other animals. These include birds such as herons and shrikes, snakes, mink, raccoons, and other larger frog species. Mortality is high among eggs and tadpoles but, once they gain adulthood, Pseudacris sp. may live two or three years in the wild.

Although diminutive, the Chorus Frog and Spring Peeper play important roles within their ecosystems. Both act as agents of insect control, including mosquitoes, and as noted provide food for a variety of other animals. Like other anurans, their disappearance from an area may be the “canary in the coal mine’ harbinger of habitat damage due to factors such as environmental pollutants. Thus these tiny denizens of the wetlands bear import for us humans as well.

So, lend an ear as you traverse the roads and levees of Goose Pond FWA and your surrounding environs. At this time of year, it will be practically impossible for you to miss one of Mother Nature’s most pleasing wakeup calls. Spring is here say the Chorus Frogs. Warm nights and fair days lie ahead chant the Spring Peepers. Listen, look, and celebrate the renewal of our natural world they sing.

Interested in frogs and toads? Here are some useful references.

The Spring Peeper

http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Pseudacris_crucifer/

The Western Chorus Frog

www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Pseudacris_triseriata/

Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians: Easter/Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Co.. New York.

Minton, Sherman A. 2001. Amphibians & Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science. Indianapolis.

 

Wabash River Conservation Area Has A New Website

The new official DNR web site for the
WABASH RIVER CONSERVATION AREA
http://www.in.gov/dnr/healthyriver/7641.htm

Check it out. Very extensive. Has Maps. A Video. All the usual categories of a DFW property web site. We will have to see what managing part of it from the distance of Goose Pond FWA really means in practice. This is a whole new world for public access properties in Indiana. This weekend of April 23-24 2016 is the Youth Turkey hunt. The regular spring Turkey hunting season is April 27- May 15. Use the usual and appropriate caution during hunting seasons.
–Lee Sterrenburg DNR bird monitoring volunteer Goose Pond FWA


WRCA Web Screenshot