What Are Spring Peepers & How Do We Protect Them?

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The northern spring peeper, scientifically known as Pseudacris crucifer, is a tiny chorus frog that announces its presence with a springtime song all across the eastern United States. These tiny amphibians, no larger than a dime, emerge from their winter slumber to fill the evening air with their distinctive peeping. They are a vital part of wetlands and forested areas all over Wisconsin, and it is our goal to help our readers understand the importance of preserving and protecting them. Let's learn a bit more about how to identify and protect spring peepers!

What Do Spring Peepers Look Like?

Spring peepers are similar in appearance to many different species of frogs, but there are some distinctive and unique characteristics that make their identification much easier. The first thing you may notice about spring peepers is how hard they are to notice! The spring peeper measures only around 1.5 inches in length, and they weigh only between 0.10 and 0.20 ounces. However, as one would guess from the name, spring peepers announce their presence with a high-pitched “peeping” call that is used to attract mates. This call can be heard over 2 miles away.

Experts in the field used to believe the spring peepers to be a type of tree frog because of their large toepads, but they have since been recategorized as a type of chorus frog. Their colors vary, but they are generally a brown-to-tan color, or green-to-olive color. Perhaps the most noticeable physical trait of spring peepers is the “X” marking on their backs. Their scientific name (Pseudacris crucifer) is a reference to their “cross-bearing” markings. 

Key Identifiers

  • Small Size: Typically measuring between 0.75 to 1.5 inches in length.
  • Coloration: Brown, tan, green, or reddish in color.
  • Cross Marking: An “X” shape on the back is characteristic of the spring peeper.
  • Distinctive Call: Loud, high-pitched peeping sound resembling jingling bells.
  • Large Toe Pads: Enable them to climb and cling to vegetation.

The Life Cycle Of Spring Peepers

Spring peepers are among the first signs of spring in Wisconsin, as they appear across much of the eastern United States once temperatures start to rise. As temperatures rise and the ice melts, these small but mighty frogs awaken from their winter hibernation, where they were burrowed in mud or hidden under logs. Remarkably, spring peepers can survive being partially frozen during winter, thanks to glucose cryoprotectant, a natural "antifreeze" in their bloodstream that protects against freezing and allows organs to enter a dormant state. 

The chorus of peeps created by these tiny amphibians transforms marshes, ponds, and wetlands of Wisconsin into stages for their springtime courtship rituals. In cooler, northern climates like here in Wisconsin, spring peepers mate between March and June. The females lay eggs singularly or in small clusters of two or three that are hidden in vegetation or at the base of bodies of water. 

After eggs hatch, which can take up to two weeks, these frogs remain in tadpole form for about three months. As soon as the tadpoles transform into adult frogs, they leave the water to begin to search for food and proper shelter. Spring peepers live for two to three years, and they generally look for a mate in their third and final spring to propagate the species. 

Spring Peepers: The Ecosystem Engineers

A thriving population of spring peepers often signifies a healthy and unpolluted ecosystem. Spring peepers play a crucial role in the food chain as both predators and prey, contributing to the balance and diversity of ecosystems that they call home. As predators, spring peepers primarily feed on a variety of small invertebrates, including insects such as ants, beetles, flies, and mosquitoes. Spring peepers may also consume other small arthropods, such as spiders and mites, further contributing to the regulation of insect populations. Homes and properties near these types of ecosystems have the spring peeper to thank for fewer pests invading their yard when temperatures rise each year.

Spring peepers also serve as important prey for a wide range of predators, including birds, snakes, mammals, and even larger amphibians. Their small size makes them vulnerable to such predators, particularly during their juvenile stages when they are still developing and less capable of finding proper shelter. Though this is an unfortunate reality for the spring peeper, their role as prey is vital to a thriving and diverse ecosystem, which is why it is so important that we all take the necessary steps to preserve their various environments. 

Conservation & Coexistence

As we marvel at the melodies of the spring peepers, it's essential to recognize the challenges they face. Habitat loss, pollution, and climate change pose significant threats to their populations. Thankfully, some efforts can be made to preserve spring peepers and their habitats, and you can start right in your own neighborhood. Here's how we can contribute to their conservation:

  • Sustainable Lawn Care Practices: Encourage the use of natural lawn care practices, such as composting, mulching, and manual weed removal, to reduce the reliance on chemical fertilizers and herbicides. Even chemical lawn care products used at home can have a major impact on nearby wildlife.
  • Native Plant Landscaping: Plant native vegetation in gardens and yards to create wildlife-friendly habitats that support diverse ecosystems. Native plants provide food and shelter for spring peepers and other wildlife while requiring less maintenance and chemical inputs.
  • Wetland Restoration: Support wetland restoration projects to enhance breeding habitat for spring peepers and other amphibians. Restoring degraded wetlands improves water quality, increases biodiversity, and enhances ecosystem resilience to climate change.
  • Water Quality Management: Maintain high water quality in breeding habitats by minimizing pollution and runoff from urban, agricultural, and industrial sources. Being more mindful of every product applied to your lawn can make a huge difference in the safety and quality of the spring peeper’s ecosystem.
  • Community Outreach: Raise awareness about the importance of spring peepers and their habitat through community education and outreach initiatives. Engage your neighbors, local schools, and businesses in conservation efforts through volunteer and activist events. 

Lawn Care & Spring Peeper Safety

Protecting the spring peeper is as easy as practicing sustainable lawn care on your own property. One of the most significant threats to the spring peeper is the excessive use of chemical lawn care products, pesticides, and herbicides. Herbicides and pesticides have been known to directly poison amphibians or disrupt their reproductive and developmental processes. 

Chemical lawn care products, when applied in excess, can also leach into nearby water bodies and contaminate the aquatic environments where spring peepers breed and develop. Fertilizers containing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus can cause a process known as eutrophication in water bodies, which introduces new algae and increased microorganisms that deplete the oxygen levels of the water. 

To combat these issues and to do your part in preserving the spring peeper, we highly encourage you to look for natural lawn care alternatives. Companies like Be Green Pro specialize in all-natural lawn care, and you can rest assured knowing that your family, your lawn, and the rest of the environment around you can safely thrive. Call us today for more information on natural lawn care solutions!