Thursday, December 20, 2007

Peepers in December

The breeding song of the Spring Peeper heralds the spring… in Vermont! Here in Louisiana, peepers fill the December night with song. Just as the deciduous trees close up shop for the year and the wintering birds arrive, cold autumn rains revive the vernal ponds and the peepers begin their chorus.

Almost always heard and not seen, these diminutive frogs are only about the size of a nickel. They spend their days sleeping under logs and in leaf litter on the forest floor. They awake in darkness, and spend their nights eating ants, beetles, flies, spiders… whatever’s available… whatever fits in their mouths. Their cryptic coloration affords them some protection. Still, many fall victim to salamanders, snakes, owls, and larger frogs.

Those that live long enough (3 years) will congregate in the temporary ponds. The males establish small territories and call. The louder, faster callers succeed in attracting females for momentary trysts. Fertilized females then deposit their eggs – one at a time – under vegetation and debris on the bottom of the ponds. Each female lays 900 or so eggs before retiring to higher ground. In four months, her offspring – whom she will never know – join her on the forest floor.

Where will the peepers live when the forest is gone? Where will they breed when their habitat is commandeered for a housing development, and their ponds are filled with soil? Those that inhabit protected areas like the 160 acres of Walter B. Jacobs Memorial Nature Park may not have to find out.

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