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The sound of frog love

As heavy rains fill parched ponds and drains, frog mating season leaps into high gear - and that means lots of noisy serenades from amorous amphibians.

By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2002


As heavy rains fill parched ponds and drains, frog mating season leaps into high gear -- and that means lots of noisy serenades from amorous amphibians.

One night earlier this week, Raymond Vence awakened to find his wife rapping on their bedroom window, attempting to scare off a vociferous tree frog stuck on the outer side of the glass.

"It wasn't letting go, no matter how hard she banged on the window," said Vence, 51, a St. Petersburg hair stylist. "She went to the living room couch to sleep."

Heavy rains in the Tampa Bay area this week have kicked off a cycle familiar to those who pay attention to Florida's biological rhythms: rain, flooding, mosquitoes and now, a cacophony of croaking amphibians.

What you're hearing is the sound of frog love.

"They're just going nuts right now, trying to breed as fast as possible," said Mark Hostetler, a University of Florida assistant professor.

It has been dry for so long that once puddles, ponds and even watering cans fill with rain, the amphibians see their chance: They're quickly mating and filling the water with eggs, which eventually will turn into tadpoles and then, more frogs. The more frogs, the louder the sound.

"They can keep you up at night," said Dan Schoeneman, who owns A-Tech Pest Control in Seminole and has dealt with seasonal complaints of loud frogs over the years. "Just trust in the fact that it's a short-lived thing, and they'll clam up soon."

While Florida is home to about 38 species of frogs and toads, people are most likely hearing either green treefrogs or southern toads, two common -- and loud -- types of amphibians, Hostetler said.

Both species go to water to mate, Hostetler said. Along the way, they call to one another, thus the croaking that can seem particularly loud in the middle of the night when the air conditioning has cycled off.

Johnny Felicione, a wildlife removal specialist based in Tampa, said he has had several phone calls from people who want to know how they might silence the frogs.

"There really isn't much that you can do about it," Felicione said.

Ear plugs aren't a bad option, he said.

"There's nothing you can do, and I hope people don't try to spray them and kill them," said Bob Baldwin, a master gardener with Hernando County's cooperative extension office. "They eat the mosquito larvae."

Baldwin said that while he hasn't received any inquiries about frogs through his work with the extension office, he has noticed that his next-door neighbor's pond is chock full of them -- a fact that is a delight to the neighbor's cat, Toby.

"Toby's always got one in his mouth," Baldwin said.

Jeanne Murphy, a naturalist with the Pinellas County extension office, said that while she typically gets frog calls through the spring and summer, she has noticed an increase in inquiries from those who have installed decorative ponds in their yards.

"We are creating habitat when we dig backyard ponds that are so popular right now," Murphy said.

When the weather dries up somewhat, the loud frogs will tone down, said Gary Morse, spokesman for the Lakeland office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Morse said his office has been getting a steady stream of frog calls, particularly from Hillsborough County.

He advised against killing frogs in the name of silence. A few less common species of frogs enjoy protected status, Morse said. Furthermore, any efforts to poison them could have a ripple effect.

"That can be illegal because it could affect protected wildlife," Morse said. "You don't know what you're killing."

The nocturnal symphony, he said, is one of the many quirky aspects of living in a state that has alligators, urban coyotes, sharks, hurricanes, lightning and sinkholes. The rain will pass before too long, he said, and so too, will the frog noise. Until then, try to endure, he counseled.

"The more damp it is at night, the happier they are and the louder they croak," Morse said. "Loud frogs are part of the price you pay to live in a place like Florida."

Frog facts

Frogs produce a croaking noise by inflating a pouch beneath their jaws and exhaling the air through their mouths to create a species-specific call.

Frogs seek out what biologists call "ephemeral ponds," newly created bodies of water in which to lay eggs. They prefer these because temporary ponds are unlikely to have fish in them, which will eat frog eggs. Scientists don't know for sure how frogs know which ponds are temporary.

The length of a frog's maturation cycle, from egg to tadpole to baby frog, varies greatly based on species and weather. Green treefrogs and southern toads can go from egg to frog in a matter of a few weeks if the weather is warm.

The female green treefrogs and southern toads typically are larger than the males.

Source: Mark Hostetler, University of Florida professor

On the Internet

See and hear 33 of Florida's frog and toad species on this University of Florida Web site: www.wec.ufl.edu

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