Musical Amphibian Treat- The Tree Frog
Tree frogs–Sometimes the greatest surprises come in the littlest packages! And these sweet little green creatures come with the added benefit of song. Some guests even plan their vacation around their seasonal showing.
This year you can be sure to hear regular spring symphonies written and performed by our local Sierran Chorus Tree Frogs. The ones shown here were discovered hiding in The Sea Ranch ocean bluff grasses. Additionally, you can find them all about The Sea Ranch scattered in the meadows and water-filled ravines.
You may even find them enjoying some hot tub time when you pop up the hot tub cover!
Each burst of winter’s drought-ending rain saturating our creeks and ponds brings the next-generation froglets in chorus during the warm night temperatures. There can be two such pulses (each several nights long) of chorusing and breeding. The first is in February, followed by two in March, and possibly one in April.
But not only are these little guys musical they’re steeped in controversy too! Follow along to learn these wacky frog facts.
Frog or Toad, or…??
The wackiest fact to nail down is determining just what this little guy is called.
You might think there is a difference between frogs and toads. But actually, they belong to the same order.
I know, it had me scratching my head too. Collectively they are known as anurans or tailless amphibians.
Amphibians are cold-blooded vertebrates that spend their early lives in water (breathing with gills) and their adult lives on land (breathing with lungs). Being members of the same order they, of course, share similar characteristics.
Characteristics that set them apart are based upon distinctions made of true “frogs” (members of the Ranidae family) and true “toads” (members of the Bufonidae family).
“True Frogs”… members of the family Ranidae, contain more than 400 species.
“True Toads”….members of the family Bufonidae, contain more than 300 species.
Toads or Tree frogs?
According to the description above, it would appear our amphibian would be a toad.
Or is it?
–But our little guy is actually known as a small hylid (tree frog).
The name “tree frog” is not entirely accurate. This critter is a ground-dweller for the most part. You’ll find him living among shrubs and grass typically near water, but occasionally it can also be found climbing high in vegetation. In my case, he was discovered off the ocean bluff trail.
Its large toe pads allow it to climb easily and cling to branches, twigs, and grass.
Tree Frogs or Chorus Frogs?
Our next wacky fact was discovered while trying to determine his actual species.
In 1986 the generic name of this species changed from Hyla (tree frogs) to Pseudacris (Chorus Frogs).
This created confusion when some like I do, continue to use tree frog out of habit. But others prefer the more accurate name, Chorus Frog.
Mountain or Pacific Coast Chorus Critter?
Ok… my guy was discovered on the Pacific coast bluff. So naturally, I first thought he was a member of the Pacific Chorus tree frogs – Right?
Well not so fast there. Maybe yes, maybe no… Maybe I just don’t know.
In 2006 authors, Recuero, Martínez-Solano, Parra-Olea, and García-París, presented papers with a proposal for a new taxonomic rearrangement. The names they gave these three species are:
- Northwest Chorus Frog – Pseudacris regilla: Ranges along the north coast from approximately Humboldt County north into parts of Oregon and Washington.
- Pacific Chorus Frog – Pseudacris sierra: Ranges approximately from Humboldt County south to Santa Barbara (including the Mendonoma area), and east into the Sierras, and the Northcentral, and Northeast part of the state, including Shasta County, and into Nevada, Eastern Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
- Baja California Chorus Frog – Pseudacris hypochondriaca: Ranges approximately from Santa Barbara south throughout Baja California, east to Bakersfield, Beatty, and southern Inyo County. This species is comprised of two subspecies, P. h. curta, which occurs in Baja California, and P. h. hypochondriaca, which occurs in California.
Adding to the extremely controversial taxonomic revision is the lack of maps to help diagnose the species.
This becomes even more confusing when you consider Sierran Chorus Tree Frogs are found from sea level to more than 10,000 feet in many types of habitats, reproducing in aquatic settings.
Adding even more confusion to the situation, USGS says a synonym for the Sierran Chorus Tree frog is the Pacific Chorus tree Frog, Pseudacris regilla. Actually, you’re more likely to hear people in Mendonoma call our tiny friend a Pacific Chorus frog, given the simple fact they are on the Pacific Coast.
Distinct morphological (body) criteria for distinguishing Sierran Chorus frog, Pseudacris sierra, from its sister species the northern Pacific chorus frog, Pseudacris regilla, and the Baja California chorus frog, Pseudacris hypochondriaca, have not yet been universally established.
All of this is enough to make me wish the whales would come back over the horizon!
Perhaps all of this is just them using their stage names as they flaunt their Hollywood star power.
Just like any famous star- you’re sure to recognize their voices. Their calls have been used as a nighttime background sound in old Hollywood movies, even those which are set in areas well outside the range of this frog.
But who knows which species they actually used. Their calls are all identical.
The Sierran chorus frog’s call is a stereotypical, loud, two-part “kreck-ek” or “ribbit.” These advertisement calls are heard during the evening and at night, and during the daytime at the peak of the breeding season.
No ….they are not doing voice-overs for commercials.
They are advertising to competing males and foes they are in the neighborhood. Or they are enticing their female counterparts to come heather for a bit of romance.
Listen to their calls here:
Green or Brown- or Both
Anyone call for a wardrobe change?
The dorsal body coloring, that is to say, the upper side or back of this animal is variable. In particular green, tan, brown, gray, reddish, cream are found. However, it is most often green or brown.
In this case, the green of the Sierran Chorus Tree frog I found allowed him to be neatly camouflaged in the grasses along the Sea Ranch bluff.
His green body color has another important aspect that helps him survive in our Sea Ranch chilly, foggy coastal weather. The green of his skin helps to absorb solar radiation.
For his cousins living in drier, hotter, more terrestrial habitats a brown body may be a more beneficial color as it absorbs less solar radiation. Not only does temperature affect their color so does the time, changing during periods of hours and weeks.
To be sure, this growing list of confusing aspects of this amphibian can make you scratch your head.
More Appearance Notes
These long-legged tiny creatures range in size as adults from .75 – 2 inches long from snout to vent (1.9 – 5.1 cm). Their weight ranges between 2-17g (0.07-0.6oz).
Additionally, their body characteristics include a large head with large eyes set on a slender body. Their slim waist, round pads on the toe tips, and limited webbing between the toes are distinctive.
Their dramatic wide dark stripe through the middle of each eye extends from the nostrils to the shoulders. It gives them a swash-buckling appearance. You may also note a Y-shaped marking between the eyes.
Usually, their skin is relatively smooth and moist. However, my buddy definitely had a few bumpy spots about him.
As the rains filling our creeks, coupled with the saturation of our marshy areas makes Sea Ranch a perfect breeding ground for our frogs.
Not only are the tadpoles of P. sierra light greenish-gray, but also olive-brown. Additionally, they have high tail fins and internal viscera that can be seen ventrally.
Of course, you’ll want to add “tadpooling” to your children’s Sea Ranch nature experiences. Not only can your children discover the amazing sea creatures unveiled in our tide pools, but they can also examine the life-cycle of one of our favorite Sea Ranch residents.
Diet and Feeding
Sierran Chorus Tree Frogs eat a wide variety of invertebrates, primarily on the ground at night, including a high percentage of flying insects.
But it seems they work up quite an appetite during the breeding season. Thus, they also feed during the day.
Typical of most frogs, their prey is located by vision, then the frog lunges with a large sticky tongue to catch the prey and bring it into the mouth to eat.
Tadpoles are suspension feeders, eating a variety of prey including algae, bacteria, protozoa, and organic and inorganic debris.
Sierrena Chorus Tree Frogs: Illegal Immigrants from Santa Rosa?
The introduction of species to areas where they are non-native can sometimes have a negative impact. For this reason, the U.S. government keeps records of its introduction. In fact, on August 24, 1983, they mapped Sierran Chorus Tree frog that traveled horticultural business in near-by Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, all the way to Dover, Hillsborough County, Florida. Luckily this immigrant hidden away in a shipment of ferns had no impact upon its fellow Floridian flora and fauna.
Harbingers of Environmental Issues
Because of their thin permeable skin, amphibians are one of the first indicators of environmental disturbances, some of which can cause malformations. Sadly, CaliforniaHerpes.com show a variety of photos of Sierran Chorus Tree frogs with deformities.
These are busy little frogs. Further, their activity is an indication of our drought conditions. Not only are they are active during the day, but you’re also sure to hear them at night as well. However, they become mostly nocturnal during dry periods.
During wet weather, they move around in low vegetation. Given our recent rains, this may be one reason why we are seeing and hearing them more.
Temperature is another factor in their activity. Frogs may be active all year low lying elevations where temperatures are more moderate. At colder or hotter locations, frogs avoid temperature extremes by hibernating in moist shelters such as dense vegetation, debris piles, crevices, mammal burrows, and even human buildings.
What Their Scientific Name Means
Now that you know all the wacky names and curious facts about our cute little frog, you’ll obviously will want to add their scientific names too.
Pseudacris – Greek:
pseudes false, deceptive, and – akris locust – means “false Acris” with reference to genus Acris
sierra – refers to the Sierra Nevada Mountains
Big and Small Discoveries at Sea Ranch
Generally speaking, guests who come to visit Sea Ranch and stay at, Sea Ranch Abalone Bay are on the watch for whales, deer, and seals. But as a result of you knowing these wacky facts, I bet you and your family will add tree frogs to your list too.
~Summary of Sierran Chorus Tree Frog Facts~
|Top Speed:||17km/h (10mph)|
|Life Span:||2-4 years|
|Conservation Status:||Least Concern|
|Color:||Black, Green, Grey, Brown, Yellow|
|Habitat:||Forests, woodlands and marshes- coast to mountains|
|Average Clutch Size:||50|
|Main Prey:||Insects, Worms, Small Frogs|
|Predators:||Birds, Mammals, Reptiles|
|Special Features:||Smooth skin and disc-like toes|
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