What Are Frogs Trying to Tell Us?

1Have you ever wished you could understand what animals are trying to tell us? What if I told you that you could? You just need to listen a little closer…

During the spring and summer months, our ears welcome the nightly lullabies of leopard frogs, spring peepers and other amphibian friends. It can be hard to tell the difference among these competing songs but if you listen closely, you may find hidden messages within their lyrics.

Listening to frog calls can allow us to estimate how many of each frog species there are in an area. Frog calls can also tell us a lot about the climate since their calling behavior changes with the temperature. Studies have found that as the climate is changing, frogs are beginning to sing a different tune.

2By listening to frog calls, we can learn a lot about how well our conservation efforts are working. (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey)

With a warming climate, some scientists have noted that frogs are calling at a higher pitch. Frog calls are also beginning to be shorter in length. For example, if a call were to normally last 30 seconds, their song may be cut short by a second or two. Another difference is the time of year that the calls can be heard. Some frogs are beginning to call earlier in the spring.

So why do we care that frogs are calling at a higher pitch, for a shorter amount of time and earlier in the spring? As you may know, frog calls are important for attracting mates. What if female frogs aren’t attracted to the new songs? What if a changing climate means a declining frog population?

3Thanks to the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey, a volunteer heard the call of a Blanchard’s cricket frog in 2017, which was the first time the frog had been heard calling in Wisconsin for 30-plus years! (Photo courtesy of the Noah Project)

More research is needed to see how climate change is affecting frogs but you don’t have to leave this task to scientists – you can help, too! Every year, the Department of Natural Resources conducts a Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey where volunteers can do their part monitoring frogs. Volunteers are important because staff can only do so much and can only be so many places. Often times, volunteers will catch something staff might have missed. In 2017, a volunteer heard the call of a Blanchard’s cricket frog, which was the first time the species was heard calling in Wisconsin since 1965!

4This map shows the routes that are currently being run (red) and existing routes that are in need of volunteers (green). If there isn’t an area near you that is need of volunteers, it may be fun to take a road trip to a place in Wisconsin you haven’t visited before!                                                                                         (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey)

The first Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey was in 1981 as a response to many species’ numbers declining including northern leopard frogs, American bullfrogs and Blanchard’s cricket frogs. Wisconsin’s dedicated volunteer-base has made the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey the longest running citizen science amphibian calling survey in North America! If you want to do your part in making sure each frog species has a chance to serenade the night air, consider volunteering with the Wisconsin Frog and Toad Survey.

We won’t know what frogs are trying to tell us unless we take the time to listen. If you’re interested in helping monitor frogs while our climate is continuing to change, please contact Andrew Badje with the Wisconsin DNR at Andrew.Badje@wisconsin.gov.