Concert of ribbets means frogs have joined in a chorus

  • By Sharon Wootton Herald Columnist
  • Friday, March 21, 2008 1:48pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Once, some people believed that if you made a wish after seeing the first frog in the spring, the wish would come true. There also was the belief that frogs were possessed by the souls of dead children, so killing a frog could bring bad luck.

We’ve passed that stage (at least when it comes to frogs), opting for smiles rather than superstitions when we hear the frog chorus.

Traditionally called Pacific tree frogs (although they aren’t true tree frogs), they’re more accurately called Pacific chorus frogs, having been reclassified from the genus hyla (true tree frogs) to pseudacris.

The Washington state native is not the spring peeper, a different species that’s found in the eastern United States.

Very small (up to 2 inches), often green (can wear other earth tones); they sport black stripes running in front of and around the eyes, then down to the shoulders.

Males are heard croaking in nearby water-filled depressions, ditches and small freshwater ponds (preferably without fish or bullfrogs), sending out their come-hither messages. Males may even butt heads and kick each other with their feet to chase rivals.

After mating, the frogs can be found far from water. I’ve seen them crawling up the side of a house and hanging around in a metal bin; I’ve also lifted the hot tub lid and found one on the edge, attracted by the moisture.

They can stay away from water because they have skin glands that secret a waxy coating.

Pacific chorus frogs also provide sound tracks for scores of movies, cartoons and TV ads — the familiar “ribbet, ribbet, ribbet!” That call has been heard in films set in Africa and alien planets, even though these frogs are only found along the western side of North America.

While the “ribbets” are used in January, February and March, a one-syllable call is used the rest of the year. They make sounds basically the same way we do, except they keep their nostrils and mouth closed so the air flows over vocal chords and into the vocal sac, puffing it up like a balloon.

The sac amplifies a certain frequency and broadcasts the sound, said Elliot Brenowitz, a professor of zoology and psychology at the University of Washington, who studies acoustic communication in frogs and birds.

Led by a chorus master, the vocal marathoners expend massive amounts of energy singing hour after hour, night after night. Just ask a resident who lives near a chorus. People have been known to fill in a pond to get rid of them.

It’s possible to hear them a mile away on a quiet night. If, theoretically, you could put your ear next to one, “ribbet” would sound as loud as a jackhammer.

Female frogs orient better to a chorus than to the call of one frog, Brenowitz said. “It may sound like thousands, but start counting, there’s never that many. If you find 100 frogs, that’s a big chorus.”

The males make shopping easier by gathering around twilight. It’s the concept of a selfish herd. A frog in a chorus has a lower chance of being picked off by a predator.

Females apparently prefer choruses of males over single males, even walking right by a single male to reach a wider choice. Males can call a few thousand times a night while females sample the calls.

Loudness reflects the male’s size, attractive to a female. She swims up to her choice, nudging him if he’s caught up in croaking. They engage in a several-hour mating process that includes laying jellylike egg clusters, usually on plants, eventually laying 500 to 750 eggs.

A few weeks later, depending on water temperature, tadpoles emerge. Two months later, metamorphosis produces frogs, which will join the chorus next year.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

Talk to us

More in Life

Rick Steves’ memories of fado, the mournful blues of Lisbon

For an authentic experience, you have to seek out the city’s rustic neighborhoods after dark.

Unusually large flocks of swifts visiting Monroe this summer

Vaux’s swifts, which migrate in spring and fall, are roosting at the Wagner chimney after gorging on insects, a local expert says.

The hardy fuchsia “Voltaire” is one the few fuchsias that can take full sun all day. (Nicole Phillips)
Eight perennials to add to the garden for summer-long enjoyment

July is a great time to fill in those blank spots with long-blooming perennials. (Yes, it is OK to plant in the summer.)

Outdoors classes and activities around Snohomish County

Some of the events listed here are contingent on whether each jurisdiction… Continue reading

Pandemic brings the Adventure-O-Meter to an all-time low

From near-misses with crow poop to scoring bleach at the pharmacy, this is what passes for excitement.

PUD program now helps 10% more customers pay their bills

Changes to the PUD’s Income Qualified Assistance Program ensure more people will get the help they need.

Author events and poetry readings around Snohomish County

Events listed here are contingent on whether each jurisdiction is approved to… Continue reading

Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ has blue foliage from late spring through early fall. In summer, tall flower spikes bear lavender blooms. (Richie Steffen)
Great Plant Pick: Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ aka ‘Ginba Giboshi’

This hosta has blue foliage from late spring through early fall. In summer, tall flower spikes bear lavender blooms.

Kate Jaeger played Gretl and Kevin Vortmann was Hansel in Village Theatre’s “Hansel Gretl Heidi Günter,” which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tracy Martin / Village Theatre)
COVID-19 curtain drops on a Village Theatre original musical

The lead actor in the canceled show says his disappointment pales next to that of the 10 young actors who were cast in the production.

Most Read