Plagued by Peepers

Crystal Canterbury

While you’ve been hopping around the island you might have noticed an influx of little green creatures.

Plagued by Peepers
Lisa Landrum
No, I’m not talking about any sort of little green alien that accompanied the SpaceX satellite on its descent from space into the Atlantic and subsequent arrival on Ocracoke (I’ll get to that in another article). But I am talking about green tree frogs! In recent months these tiny amphibians – known locally as “peepers” – have been popping up all over the place, and in large numbers! Until recently, no amphibians were known to live in salt water habitats, but a study conducted in 2016 at Bodie Island changed that.

One of my most vivid memories of nighttime nature on Ocracoke occurred last year. After turtle nest sitting came to a close around 11pm, I, along with another volunteer and a Park bio-tech, loaded into a Park truck and made our way back towards the village. There was a soft breeze and the temperature had dropped, making riding with the windows down quite pleasant. The sky was clear of clouds, which allowed us to easily see the stars. The bio-tech took us off the beach via ramp 72. As we drove through the dunes all I remember hearing was the sound of the breeze, but when we got to where the salt marsh is on either side of the sand road, we were met with the sudden and dramatic increase of noise, courtesy of tree frogs singing from every direction. The three of us in the truck fell silent as we listened. It wasn’t just random chirping or singing that we were hearing. There were distinct notes and patterns, and the song came in waves, as if they were singing to each other from various locations. I didn’t think much of it at the time, other than that it was really neat listening to them, but after the recent influx in their population, green tree frogs have been getting all kinds of attention.

So, what’s the big deal? As I mentioned before, up until 2016 no amphibians were known to live in salty habitats. But, as sea levels rise and salt water moves more inland (think storm surge as a big culprit), scientists believe these frogs might just be able to adapt to salty water. Coastal green tree frogs are adapting and doing so quite well, whereas the same species in places farther inland – places like Greenville, NC, and west – tend to avoid salty conditions… for now. Coastal frogs also develop faster than their freshwater peers, leading scientists to believe that frogs living in more salty habitats carry fewer gut parasites. And these frogs cover a wide area, living as far north as Maryland and as far west as Texas. That’s quite a range in habitat! 

Plagued by Peepers
Alison Rinker

You might also notice frogs perched on your ceilings, roofs, doors, deck railing, light poles, car tops, windshields, really everything that is higher than ground level! That’s because the males go as high as they can to sing in an effort to attract a mate! The larger the frog and louder the voice, the better! But, coastal tree frogs are smaller than their freshwater counterparts, making finding a mate even more competitive. I guess size really does matter. Locally, with all the rain and higher tides caused by hurricanes Florence and Michael, insects – such as mosquitos and biting flies – are reproducing at alarming rates, creating an endless buffet for these little green amphibians (and an extreme annoyance for those dealing with the mass numbers of insects).

So, it isn’t in your head that green tree frogs seem to be more abundant this year; it really is happening.

We've got frogs and biting insects.... are locusts next?




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