The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Frogs and Toads Love the Recent Wet Weather
by Ro Wauer

There is no proof more obvious for the greater activity of frogs and toads than the number of road-killed frogs and toads found right after a heavy rainstorm. But the great majority of those squashed amphibians are Gulf Coast toads, identified by their squat, warty body with a narrow pale back stripe and a wider dark side stripe. Occasional, one can also find a Texas toad, a leopard frog, or one of the treefrogs.

Even more evidence of their love for wet weather is the abundance of treefrog songs that emanate from the various trees and shrubs and even from other cracks and crannies around the yard. Although songs of green treefrogs can be expected even before wet weather sets in, the chorus is considerably louder and more abundant after a rain. There are times when a dozen or more green treefrog calls are obvious at the same time. Their calls have been described as “queenk-queenk-queenk” with a nasal inflection, and according to Roger Conant and Joseph Collin’s book, “Reptiles and Amphibians Eastern/Central North America,” their calls can be repeated as much as 75 times a minute. This treefrog is usually bright green, although some individuals can be nearly yellow, with a long yellow to whitish patch that runs from just below the eye to the flank. This is the treefrog that can often be seen of our house windows at night, where they come to prey on insects attracted by the indoor lights.

The other common treefrog is the gray treefrog, primarily gray with brown and black colors. It can look silver-gray at times, especially in the middle of the day when it is resting in a protected corner. The colors change somewhat, depending upon the activity or environment of the treefrog. Other distinguishing features include a whitish spot beneath their eye and a bright orange or golden yellow color on their concealed hind legs. And the call of gray treefrogs is best described as a resonant, musical trill. Also in our area is the smaller squirrel treefrog that has a nasal “ducklike” call and a harsh rasping trill, according to Conant and Collins.

Our resident leopard frogs probably get more attention than any other species, although bull frogs that are more likely in larger wetlands can also be numerous. Leopard frogs are what almost everyone visualizes when thinking of frogs. Most individuals are 1 to 3 inches in length when squatting but may be twice as long with their legs extended. Some of the largest can be 12 inches or more, and those individuals are big enough to offer a delicious meal of frog legs. Leopard frogs are marvelous jumpers; some can jump three feet or more. The typical leopard frog can easily be identified by the leopard pattern of black blotches on a green background and a pair of whitish stripes that run down its back. Leopard frogs love gardens, and gardeners often find this frog hiding among the foliage during the daytime. I have often been surprised to have one of these long-legged amphibians suddenly jump away just as I am about to pull some grass or weeds. Especially during dry weather, like we have experienced in recent weeks, leopard frogs seek out watered sites.

The presence of such an abundance of frogs and toads in our area is but one more indication of the amazing biological diversity of South Texas. And it also is a reminder that our yards can be an important refuge for a myriad of creatures if we care. Keeping our plants well watered and our environment free of pesticides can help such critters like frogs and toads that daily consume many pests that might otherwise degrade our yards.

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