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Mating Calls In The Night

Posted by kevinwolz on May 28, 2010

The Chicago region was historically habitat to at least 13 different species of frogs and toads. Habitat loss and pollution have decimated these populations, and now, only about half of these species remain in the region. For over a decade, the Chicago Wilderness Habitat Project has been enlisting the help of citizen scientists and volunteers to monitor these frog populations. I have been a frog monitor at Swallow Cliff Woods in the Sag Valley for three years now. I started during my early involvement with habitat restoration, and was instantly hooked. Frogs are so cool.

Why do we do it? The obvious reason is for the frogs own sake: we have a responsibility to preserve the few native species we have left in our area. However, there is also a broader reason. Frogs, and amphibians in general, are very sensitive to their environmental conditions. Breathing through their skin and living much of their life in water makes them keenly aware of the ecosystem’s health. For this reason, frogs are known as “indicator species.” The idea is that by closely monitoring the health of an indicator species, you are indirectly monitoring the health of the entire ecosystem. This is very valuable information for the area’s ecologists and restorationists. Over the years, the data can reveal if the work we are doing is actually succeeding or heading in the right direction. Other species monitored include butterflies, dragonflies, and birds…all critical feedback for successful habitat restoration.

How do we do it? First, monitors must memorize the appearance and call of all 13 potential species. This actually isn’t that bad since the calls are quite unique. Frogs call to attract mates, but different species mate at different times of year. Once we know the calls, we must then monitor the wetlands at our assigned site at least three times per year (early spring, mid spring, and early summer), in order to catch the different species. We don’t capture the frogs. We don’t touch the frogs. Heck, we hardly ever even see the frogs! But man do we hear ’em! I have been out during the peak of the tree frog mating season where I couldn’t even hear my partner talk five feet away from me. We were surrounded. We monitor at dusk on cooler days, which is when the frogs are most active. At each marsh, we judge and record whether there is just one, a few, or a lot of each species. I then enter this data online, where it is reviewed by scientists and added to the record. It can be quite a surreal experience to be out in the woods at night, surrounded only by nature, and engulfed in the symphony of countless creatures.

So, if you ever want to go for a walk in the woods with me…at night…and listen to mating calls…let me know. Ladies?

The Woods Last Night

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3 Responses to “Mating Calls In The Night”

  1. onestraw said

    “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep… but I have promises to keep.”

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