Newt photobombs spring peepers in amplexus

The spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) have been going strong in Cuyahoga County for about two weeks now. Recently I took at trip out to watch them at a local wetland. It was a perfect night: warm and overcast with occasional sprinkles of rain. Hundreds of males were calling from bushes, cattails, and the pond’s edge. I also saw a few pairs of male and female peepers in amplexus. As one pair swam by me, I took a few photos. It wasn’t until later that I realized one of my photos contained a third individual: an eastern newt (notophthalmus viridescens). This newt popped its head up to the water’s surface just as I took this photo.

Newt photobombs mating spring peepers

The newts won’t harm the adult spring peepers. However, adult newts will stay in the ponds long after the adult peepers have laid their eggs and left. The newts are predatory, feeding on invertebrates and small amphibian larvae. So it is possible that the tadpoles of these mating peepers could be chased or even eaten by this same newt later in the summer.

Here are a couple photos of calling male peepers from the same night:

Cleveland Spring Peeper

Cleveland Spring Peeper

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2015 Ohio Natural History Conference

Yesterday I attended the Ohio Biological Survey’s annual Ohio Natural History Conference at the Ohio History Center in Columbus. The meeting was very well organized and had several hundred people in attendance. Extra excitement was added throughout the day as OBS executive director Greg Smith raffled off Ohio Biological Survey publications, including the excellent Amphibians of Ohio. Of course, the primary focus of the meeting was the program of oral and poster presentations. As I watched the presentations, it seemed to me that two major themes emerged.

The first theme was the power of intertwining human and natural stories when teaching about the environment. Jen Brumfield’s keynote address on her Lake Erie birding adventures was a great example of this. She initially captured our imagination with a tale of competition among birders to observe birds (particularly jaegers) around the great lakes. Then she kept us engaged by combining stories of the growing relationship between her birding groups and their boat captain with observations and amazing natural history comments of birds on Lake Erie. I think that by the end of her talk, most of the audience was ready to sign up for a boat trip!

The second theme was that many gaps still exist in our basic understanding of how species are distributed over space and how their abundance changes over time. Filling in the gaps in our knowledge is critically important for successful conservation. Here are just a few of the many examples from the meeting of people who are working to fill these knowledge gaps.

  • Derek Hennen described his efforts to update the information on Ohio millipedes. Despite the ecological importance of millipedes, no modern key exists for Ohio species, and the last survey of their distribution in Ohio is 90 years old!
  • Marlo Perdicas of Summit Metroparks described how 10 years of bat capture data had helped improve our understanding of the habitat needs of bats as well as provided evidence for the effects of white-nose syndrome.
  • Katherine Krynak, a graduate student in my lab, described how the skin microbial communities and anti-microbial peptides of cricket frogs varied across their geographic range.
  • Kaitlin Campbell demonstrated changes in mite diversity – and noted how little we still know about their species-level taxonomy and effects on ants.
  • Marc Behrendt showed surprisingly large (county-wide!) gaps in distribution records for even common species of reptiles and amphibians, and explained his efforts to fill in those gaps.

There were many other oral presentations and posters; a summary of conference tweets can be found on Storify. You can also read abstracts from the program of oral and poster presentations.

Thanks to all of the organizers and presenters. It was another fantastic meeting, and I look forward to the 2016 Ohio National History Conference!

Mammoth
Conway mastodon skeleton at the Ohio History Center

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Revisiting the most widely heard amphibian voice

In 1951, George S. Myers, an ichthyologist and curator at the Standford University Natural History Museum, published a paper in Copeia titled “The most widely heard amphibian voice.” He described how the calls of pacific chorus frogs appeared in movies set around the world, often far outside of their native range. These frogs range from Baja California north to British Columbia, but their conspicuous calls and distribution around Hollywood led to their voices being recorded and used in many movies.

Their call is distinctive, described by Myers as “rurrkk-uk, rurrkk-uk, rurrkk-uk” and in Robert Stebbins’ field guide as “Kreck-ek”. You can hear recordings or watch videos of them on my frog call page.

My colleagues and I have made jokes about the misplaced calls of Pacific Chorus Frogs for many years, but I haven’t paid much attention to specific movies with the frogs until this month. After hearing pacific chorus frogs calling in both Marco Polo and Gone Girl, I decided to start taking notes on the movies where I heard the frogs. A much longer list of movies using pacific chorus frogs outside of their native range can be found at the Internet Movie Database. Listed below are just my observations since January 2015. I’ll update the map as I notice more movies featuring these frogs.

The red section of the map below illustrates the natural geographic range of the pacific chorus frog (although they are sometimes accidentally moved outside of their range). The numbers indicate the settings of movies featuring the calls of pacific chorus frogs.

(1) The Netflix series Marco Polo featured calling pacific chorus frogs in a garden in a Song Dynasty city about nine minutes into episode seven.

(2) The movie Gone Girl was largely set in Missouri, and featured the calls of pacific chorus frogs in many of the nighttime scenes.

Map of Pacific Chorus Frogs heard in movies

Original map obtained from the NASA website

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Snake-shaped pancake video!

Amazing pancake art in the shape of snakes! More videos at Saipancakes.

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Annual christmas migration of chorus frogs to Alaska


At the end of November I received a very interesting email from Tasha, who lives in Anchorage, Alaska. Tasha and her family had just brought home a Christmas tree. To their surprise, a small frog came hopping out of the tree! They noticed that it was unlike the other frogs they had seen in Alaska. They contacted me after searching the internet, and I confirmed that their frog was a Pacific Chorus Frog. Here is Tasha’s frog:

Chorus Frog found on Christmas tree in Alaska

What makes this a particularly interesting observation is that Pacific Chorus Frogs are not native to Alaska. Their natural geographic range is from British Columbia down to Baja California (although it is likely that there are several similar-looking species lumped together as Pacific Chorus Frogs). So the frog that Tasha and her family found in their Christmas tree was probably accidentally transported from a tree farm in Washington or Oregon.

It turns out that frogs riding in Christmas trees is not an unusual situation. In 2009 I was contacted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to identify a frog found in Christmas trees. That was also a Pacific Chorus Frog, and the little frog ended getting quite a bit of attention as a national new story. Pacific Chorus Frogs have also been documented traveling in Christmas trees to Arizona (Rorabaugh et al. 2004 Southwestern Naturalist), and even Guam (Christy et al. 2007 Diversity and Distributions).

I am aware of only one documented introduced population of Pacific Chorus Frogs in Alaska, and that is in southern Alaska. However, as the climate continues to warm, it is possible that the continued Christmas hitchhiking of Pacific Chorus Frogs could lead to their establishing a population in Alaska. I would be interested in hearing about more cases of Pacific Chorus Frogs transported in Christmas trees. If you have found a frog in your Christmas tree, please let me know! I can be contacted by email: mfbenard -- gmail.com.

Update March 2015: Since I posted this, I have been contacted by two other people that found pacific chorus frogs in their Christmas Tree in 2014. Once case was in Phoenix, Arizona. Phoenix is outside of the range of these frogs. The other case was on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Although Vancouver Island is within the range of these frogs, it is likely that the frog had still been moved a long distance.

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