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A Summer Concert in the Forest: Gray Tree Frogs in Western New York

by Donna Barski


Three years ago, my husband and I decided to dig a new pond in our woods with the goal of enhancing the breeding options for our resident amphibians, especially salamanders and wood frogs. For a few magical nights early each spring, we eagerly await their arrival, as they congregate to mate and deposit their eggs. This year, however, as summer began, we were in for a delightful surprise: the appearance of gray tree frogs! Although we always knew these frogs were living in our woods, we had only occasionally heard their calls, had rarely observed them, and never actually witnessed their mating behavior. To our amazement and elation, these seldom-seen frogs, normally solitary, had converged at our little pond in numbers we had never witnessed before.


The weather the first week in July was sultry—perfect conditions for attending the “performance” of these elusive and enigmatic amphibians. For three nights the "amphi-theater" of our upper pond resounded with their ancient ballads—their chorus illuminated by a profusion of twinkling fireflies against a star-studded sky. The cacophony of voices seemed to come from everywhere around the pond, high in the trees and in the foliage growing near the pond’s edge. The serenades could be heard well into the evening in intervals of several minutes, followed by several minutes of silence before resuming again. The males came first, and began their full-throated bellowing (which could be heard ⅓-mile away) to summon the females.


Unlike salamanders and wood frogs who rendezvous at their breeding ponds for only a few nights in early spring, tree frogs prefer warmer weather, and will go silent as soon as the temperature dips below 70℉. They may continue to mate well into summer.


Notes:


Like chameleons, gray tree frogs can change their skin color to green, brown, gray, and shades in-between, depending on their surroundings. Sometimes their warty skin, which contains a toxin, resembles lichen. These woodland frogs easily climb up tree trunks and even glass windows with enlarged suction-pad toes that secrete a sticky mucus. The males may be heard calling on warm humid days and nights but are difficult to approach and their camouflage makes them nearly impossible to see.

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Donna Barski is a retired teacher who lives in Arcade, New York and has an Environmental Studies degree and a life-long interest in nature.


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