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Orange Spring Peeper Visits Chelmsford Backyard

Orange Spring Peeper by Cori Rose, Couresty of Chelmsford Patch.

As most gardeners do, I find it a spiritual experience to play amongst my garden beds and flowers. Imagine my surprise the other day when I saw what appeared to be an orange poison dart frog in my butterfly garden. Come again? Okay, not really a tropical rainforest tree frog, but the resemblance was  a bit striking, right down to its little sticky toe pads.

With an email to a few herpetologist friends I was able to confirm that what I had was indeed an orange spring peeper. The coloration is a bit unusual, but apparently not unheard of. It seems that the peeper has a chameleon-like ability that does allow it to darken or lighten, depending on its mood or its surroundings and orange varieties do seem to be more common further south (VA and NC).

The Northern Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) is a small chorus frog found throughout the eastern USA and Canada. The peepers that we usually find here in Chelmsford MA  are often some shade of tan/brown or grey in color, sometimes with a dark cross on their back (from which the latin name “crucifer” comes from).  They are usually very small, between 1″ or 1.5″ in size and compare in size from a nickel to slightly larger than a quarter (females are usually the larger of the two).

When I have a severe case of the winter blues and the first crocuses are just beginning to break ground, it is this critter that I truly yearn to hear. On the first warm rainy evening (if you can in your right mind call mid-40 F warm) as the last remnant of snow and ice is disappearing from the wetland edge, the male peepers come a-calling. I can usually be found up to my knees in cold (VERY cold – brrrrr)  water, head lamp on and camera in tow. As they are nocturnal and of minute size they are more often heard than seen.

Some interesting peeper factoids:

  • Only the male of the species calls and it does so by pushing air out of and drawing it back into a sac on its throat.
  • Spring Peepers produce glucose (sugar) in their liver that functions as an anti-freeze to keep their key organs from freezing.
  • Other body parts suh as legs may form ice crystals and freeze and they spend the winter in this partly frozen state in the soil or under leaves or logs.
  • They spend the majority of their time on land as carnivorous insect eaters, but require water (normally shallow wetlands or ephemeral pools) to reproduce.

Northern Spring Peeper USGS Photo by Brad Glorioso

Unfortunately, most amphibians including frogs are experiencing catastrophic declines world-wide that have biologists significantly concerned. The reasons are not fully understood but major contributors are believed to be disease, habitat destruction, modification and fragmentation, pollution, pesticide use, introduced predators, and climate change. This should be a concern to us all as they are often considered as an indicator species (“the canary in the coal mine” so to speak) that reflects the quality of our overall environment due to their sensitivity to external parameters. Maybe this will be a subject of a future blog…

For more information on these wonderful critters visit these links:

Vernal Pool Association

Rhode Island Vernal Pools

MA DF&W Natural Heritage

UMASS Amherst Natural Resources

Cori Rose is a wetland scientist and regulatory project manager with the New England District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in Concord MA. Cori is an avid gardener, especially for wildlife, and a volunteer with the Chelmsford Conservation Commission in her home town of Chelmsford, MA. Her Blog is called Turtles Crossing.

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  1. Dodie Casey

    Hi Bill:
    About 2 weeks ago, while my Granddaughter & I were picking blackberries in a copse of apple trees, etc, in the middle of one of our hay fields, I found two of your little bright orange frogs! So, I immediately went to “google” to check it out. I found a site–Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History–& sent off an email to the Education Director, Mark Baldwin. He had, as did I, difficulty in finding anything, but finally located your blog & sent it to me! It was great to see a picture of my frog!
    Just one question, though: Do the orange “peeper” frogs stay the same colour into the fall? For, as I mentioned, I only saw my little guy/gal a couple of weeks ago–September 10th to be exact:)
    I can’t wait to hear from you on this! So, please, send me a reply! Oops! I nearly forgot to tell you: We live in Centre Rawdon, Hants County, Nova Scotia, Canada!

  2. Cori Rose

    Hi Dodie, it is interesting that I have heard of other reports of these “orange” frogs in Northern New England this year. I have to wonder if it has a relationship to changing regional environmental conditions. They are not normally seen during the day, prefering a noctural habit. However, I suppose we could have been overlooking them due to their small size and effective camouflage.

    From my discussions with folks who study amphibians, color change in frogs can be an indicator of a few things including poor health, enviromental conditions, color of background in which the frog is in or even in domesticated conditions, type of artificial lighting used in the terrarium. I do know that peepers in particular are known to change their shade of light or dark based upon their environment, so I would suggest that they will probably alter their color by season, becoming more of a brownish color as fall ensues and possibly even green for the new spring when they leave their winter burrow areas. I would be interested in knowing if you have future encounters with such colored frogs at your location. Enjoy the early fall season!

  3. decorative birdhouse shop

    I read your article, and I am glad that you were able to explain why I found the first frog in my own yard in several years. I have looked through this site, and your material is appropriate and informative even if a year old already.

  4. Roseanna Terrio

    Hi there

    I grew up in Joggins, Nova Scotia (Joggins Fossil Institute area) and when I was younger I was washing the car in our driveway and found a little bright orange frog. When we took him in the house to show our parents he jumped out of my hand and stuck tot eh side of the refrigerator. It was probably in the late 70’s that I found that frog and we were all just amazed at his bright orange color. Just thought I would share this with you .

    Roseanna Terrio

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