We all have a cross to bear, though some of us hide ours better than others.
Pinkletinks wear theirs on their backs. The spring peepers, one of the Island’s favorite harbingers of spring, can be identified by the dark cross on their backs. Their scientific name, Hyla crucifer, translates into “one that bears a cross.” X really does marks the spot to identify this favorite frog.
The chorus has begun. Listen at a wetland near you to hear the males calling out their love songs. Male peepers create sound by inflating their vocal sacs and expelling air. Notice, too, that the males sing in trios, and the frog with the deepest voice starts the serenade.
Females are now all ears. In fact, research has shown that it is mainly the females who actually hear the mating calls, as the males have poorer hearing. Perhaps it is due to the cacophonic clamor of hundreds of frogs sounding off, the sound heard up to two miles away, that has caused the males to become somewhat deaf.
The male frog with the loudest and most rapid succession of calls is most desired. Calling twenty times per minute is common, so anything above that rate would make for a very attractive amplified amphibian!
Despite their numbers and sound, pinkletinks are an elusive lot to spot, for a few reasons. One is their size. At about an inch long, they are comparable in size to a paperclip and just as easy to miss, especially because they blend in with their surroundings. It is even believed that their skin adapts in color to camouflage itself with the pinkletink’s environs. At three to five ounces, the smaller males weigh as little as a penny and the larger females as much as a nickel.
And, like small change, often we are looking in the wrong place for them. You might head for a pond to find them, but they are only in the ponds during their tadpole stage.
Pinkletinks are tree frogs and live in woodlands and fields near wetlands for much of the year, only coming to ponds and wet areas to breed in the spring. Peepers have been found more than 1,000 feet from their breeding places, and hibernate under logs or behind bark. I often hear reports of them wintering over in our outdoor showers, which is fair enough, if we’re not using them. On their feet are round toe pads that help peepers climb up on grasses and trees, though rarely to the top. Pinkletinks prefer to perch within three feet of the ground.
Nighttime is the right time for pinkletinks. In this early part of the season, peak movements between their land and water habitats occur during rainy nights. And as nocturnal hunters, they are out and about hunting and eating insects in the dark hours. Spiders are a favorite food and can make up almost 50 per cent of their meals. (So, having them guard your outdoor shower doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.)
Mites, sowbugs, leafhoppers, and worm and butterfly larvae round out their diet. In a pinch, they will even consume their own cast-off skin. Dinner clearly is where you find it!
After pinkletinks have paired up and mated, the female will lay up to 800 eggs in their breeding pond. Tadpoles emerge after a week and a half and will become fully grown frogs by late summer. Though blessed with a large family, a short lifespan of three years is all they have.
Perhaps their cross to bear is simply the need to breed and do it quickly for these frogs’s time on the pond and the planet is short. As is our time in the spring to enjoy their harbinger harmony before they disappear back into the woodlands to wait out another winter.
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.