As Published in Parent Express, July 2011

Who Else is Fond of a Pond?

The bright warmth of summer will hopefully find many of us enjoying the myriad waterways of our northern New England landscape. At first glance, you might note the light reflecting off the water, the blue skies and the sand or rocks that border a watery world beckoning us to swim and sunbathe. But don’t be fooled by the apparent tranquility of your first impression – as always, there is more to nature than meets the eye. If you are lucky enough to have a swimming pond nearby, take the time to get to know some of the inhabitants of this aquatic environment.

 

Your first likely acquaintance will be the red-spotted newt that you met through the May issue of Parent Express. But there are many other new friends to be made in the shallows and along the shores of your favorite swimming pond in July, such as the green frog and the bullfrog. While bullfrogs are particular to ponds and lakes, green frogs are as likely to be found in small streams and brooks. They are easily identified, sight unseen, by their unique contributions to the “frog chorus.” Many of us are familiar with the bass jug-o-rum call of the bullfrog. The green frog leads the strings section of the chorus with a sound like a plucked banjo string. Since different frogs mate at different times during the spring and summer, they contribute their songs to the chorus at specific times. This certainly makes it easier for us to learn to identify them by sound.

 

A good way to remember which frog sings which song is to come up with memory aids that link sounds to words, such as the food-related examples in the following chart. It can also be a fun and funny way to entertain your selves in a group. So get together with your families and friends to make a delicious frog chorus! Of course, real frogs aren’t singing about jello and mashed potatoes, but rather to defend their territory and attract mates. The frogs in the chart are introduced in order of their appearance from spring to summer.

Frog

Their Sound

Your Word

Wood Frogs

sound like crazy quaking ducks

wiggle-jello, jello-wiggle-jello, wiggle

(loud and nasal)

Peepers

high, rapid peep-peep

tomato, tomato, tomato

American Toad

long, melodious trill

dilllll (stop) dillllll

Pickerel Frog

low, soft snore

olives (said AHHHHlives, mouth open wide)

Gray Tree Frog

abrupt trill

grapes! grapes! (roll the grr in back of throat)

Bullfrog

lowest sound in pond

maaaashed potatoes (mashed in a vibrating jug-o-rum, potatoes in your lowest voice)

Green Frog

like a plucked banjo string

Fried Rice Now (descending, out of tune, each word stressed, assertive)

If you’ve got a good, big group, start by letting everyone decide what kind of frog to be. Have them get into groups, and encourage them to practice their parts. Begin to tell the story of the pond: “It’s mid-March and Wood Frogs wake up and hop on down to the local pond or vernal pool.” (Wood Frogs sing) “And this wakes up the Peepers.” (Peepers join in) And on and on until all the frogs are singing in one big chorus. Then because the Wood Frogs are the first to leave the pond, have all the

Wood Frogs stop singing , (Wood Frogs quiet) and on and on until just the Green Frog is left. Then silence! Have fun chorusing up this unique feast!

 

Once you have sung your hearts out, you may still want to catch a glimpse of one of these amphibians in their natural habitats. While both the green frog and bullfrog are primarily active at night, they can both also be easily spotted during daylight hours. They are both known as green-faced frogs, because they have distinctive green masks on their face. Green frogs are medium-sized, with smooth green, grey or tan skin. They have two raised ridges of skin that run from just above each ear to partway down their backs. They may be along the edge of the water or up on the shore. You may even find them up on a floating log. If you want to find a bullfrog, you will need to visit a permanent body of still water such as a pond or lake. They may be sitting partially submerged or fully exposed on the bank but rarely up on a log. Large adult bullfrogs can be easy to identify simply because of their grand size (up to 7 inches long). But when they are mid-sized, it can be tricky to distinguish them from the green frog. The bullfrog lacks the long ridge of skin seen on the green frog. If you are uncertain, wait for them to sing out, as their calls are quite distinct.

 

Along with seeing and hearing amphibians at your favorite pond or lake, you may be fortunate enough to spot one of our many water-loving reptiles. Snakes and turtles are also plentiful in the forests and along waterways.  A real favorite, the painted turtle is the official Vermont state reptile. When fully grown, they are 5-7 inches long. Their skin is green with yellow spots and stripes. They have two distinctive yellow spots on each side of their neck. At the base of their neck, and on their legs, the yellow stripes are replaced with red stripes. The undersides of their top shell are very colorful with yellow, red, and green markings.

 

Painted turtles are mostly aquatic but enjoy basking, and can often be seen atop floating logs or on rocks. A common sight is a series of several painted turtles lined up in ascending order based on their size. They are quick to dive into the water when startled, so a moment or two of quiet watching is well worth the effort. You can also find

snapping turtles in ponds, while wood turtles are more often near rivers and streams and

a rare spotted turtle sighting would be cause for celebration. Whatever amphibians and

reptiles you find associated with your favorite swimming spot, remember to treat them

with respect and care.