Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

March 28, 2010

How Much Smack Can a Wood Frog Take?

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:45 pm

I recently stopped by my favorite roadside ditch to take in the Chorus Frog symphony. The place is in west Monroe County along a relatively quiet stretch of country road. Although there are hundreds of wet places about where these frogs can be heard, there are only a few where they can be seen as well.  Even though Chorus Frogs are deafeningly loud, they are tiny and well camouflaged. In wet areas studded with cat-tail stems and flooded vegetation they are impossible to see even when agonizingly close to the listener. As expected, the residents of my ditch of choice were in full voice by mid day – encouraged by the warming rays of the sun and air temperatures in the mid-sixties. Fortunately, they were also in full view. They gather there in the tea colored water at a place possessing very little cover, so a cautious human being can take in all the auditory and visual action at once.

Watching frogs breed is a bit voyeuristic, but it’s not like they are trying to keep anything secret. The males engage in prolonged bouts of intensive high-decibel trilling as they vie for the attentions of the females. The females, on the other hand, remain mute.  They engage in prolonged bouts of listening while taking careful measure of their potential mates (see an enraptured female eying up a potential beau in the photo below). There was never any indication of romance in the eyes of either sex, by the way. Both remained fixed in a bulging stare throughout the whole process. Each calling male inflated his throat into a marble sized sac in order to utter his love trills (see video here). When the two sexes did finally come together, the affair became explosive. Like magnet to steel, the male leaps onto the female. He groans, she groans, and the two wrestle a bit until he finally locks her into an inescapable half nelson grip. He’ll hang on until she eventually decides to lay her eggs – at which point he’ll fertilize the clutch as it is laid.

The Chorus Frog orgy was enough to give anyone their fix of amphi-sexuality, but this day offered a bit more. Distributed out amongst their noisy cousins, a host of larger Wood Frogs quietly lingered about the ditch water (see first photo). Given that Chorus frogs are only about one inch long and the Wood Frogs all of two or three inches, the term “larger” is relative.

Although their background color can vary from pale pinkish to deep bronze, Wood frogs are easily identified by their dark bandit masks and prominent “fold lines” along the back. The females are larger and lighter colored than the males. According to one reference (I don’t like to make everything up!) the shape of the webbing between the toes of the hind feet is sexually diagnostic. Males have convex edges and females have concave edges.  Good luck on this one. Like the Chorus Frogs, these frogs gather at temporary pools to make whoopee for only about a week each year. They are explosive breeders. Instead of trilling, the male Wood Frogs quack like miniature ducks. Perhaps overwhelmed by the incessant banter of the Chorus around them, these frogs were relatively quiet on this day. They only let out a tentative “quack” every now and then.

I decided to try an experiment and see if I couldn’t elicit some kind of hot-blooded response in one or two of the males. They were a bit boring on this lazy afternoon. Breeding Woodies can be aggressive creatures. They will forcefully wrestle all comers and have been known to squeeze females so hard that the poor dames literally bust open. The over-sexed males are equipped with Popeye-like forearms and swollen thumbs with large nuptial pads. They are ready to r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-rumble.

Knowing that my chances would be nil had I elected to dress up like a giant female Wood Frog, my ploy was simply to cluck like a rival male and boil some cold blood. You can see the results of this attempt in this short video (see here), but I can sum it up for you – it worked.

Before training my lens on one of the languid males I let out a few clucks just for laughs. He responded cluck for cluck. I guess we were exchanging a few “yeahs” and “oh yeah, says who’s.” Once I got the camera going and continued with a few more clucks (you can clearly hear my distinguished chicken-like smack talk on the sound track) he quickly reached a flash point. Erupting into a slur of profanity, he propelled in my general direction with a few powerful thrusts of his back legs and continued to let the blue language fly until turning about to return to his corner of the ditch. ‘Nuf said, dog! His activity stirred up a few adjacent Woodies and got them going for several minutes before quieting down.

In answer to the question “how much smack can a wood frog take if a wood frog could take smack?” the answer “not much – not much at all.”


  1. Inviting someone to investigate subtle differences in the shape of the foot-web to differentiate gender must be the amphibian equivalent of the insect specialist who recommends perusal (on a microscopic scale) of the genitalia of a spider in order to figure out the species.

    Comment by Joy K. — March 28, 2010 @ 10:49 pm

  2. Gerry, you “quack” me up!

    Comment by Jackie Donnelly — March 28, 2010 @ 10:49 pm

  3. My friend Jackie (Woodswalker) told me about your blog – we had been out on a local trail last week, listening to our local Woodfrog Frolic.
    After reading of your experiment, of course we went back and tried some frog-calling of our own. We sounded like sick chickens, and there was a brief period of embarrassed silence on the part of the frogs. Then suddenly they all started a-quacking at once, but I was laughing so hard it was difficult to focus the camera.
    Thanks for the terrific blog !

    Comment by Sue Pierce — April 1, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

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