Bainbridge Island, WA – At first, I didn’t see him. He was smack dab in front of me, but I still would not have noticed him if he had not moved. Nestled in the curly foliage of a fresh water pond plant, this one inch wonder blended perfectly with its wet green surroundings and I almost missed the chance to study a striking pacific tree frog up close.
Hoping that I had discovered a rare tropical frog living in western Washington, I was disappointed to learn that pacific tree frogs are not tropical, nor are they rare. They are actually quite common, found all the way from Canada to Mexico, from sea level to 11,000 feet. Also known as chorus frogs, pacific tree frogs fill the spring air with a chorus of loud croaking sounds as part of their annual mating season, a time when the males come down from the trees and begin their songs near a wet area, suitable for offspring. Once a female has made her choice of mates, the male climbs on her back and she heads for the water carrying her sweetheart. Aquatic vegetation makes the perfect place to deposit eggs and sperm to begin the next generation of croakers.
The female can deposit over a thousand eggs in one season, but due to a host of predators, not all will complete the mysterious transformation into adults. Frogs begin life in a fertilized egg, then hatch into tadpoles, complete with gills and fins. After several weeks in the water, legs and lungs form as the tail shrinks away and the frog finds his place on land. It is such a remarkably designed process, unlike any other in the natural world.
Search for pacific tree frogs near wet places and identify them by the little black line that runs under each eye like a racing stripe. They also sport circular toe pads that enable them to climb almost any surface in search of insects. The mask and toe pads are unique to the pacific tree frog and are good ways to make a positive identification.
Another striking feature is their dewy skin, kept moist by a waxy glaze secreted by glands in their skin, yet thin enough to be considered permeable. Skin color can range from green to brown, as well as reddish or tan decorated with endearing black spots and textured bumps. Skin coloring can change to help these frogs blend in with their surroundings. Temperature also triggers a skin color change, lighter in warm weather, darker in cool temperatures.
All amphibians lead a double life in and out of the water. They are important members of two habitats as vital links in food chains and as indicator species, helping us better identify environmental changes more quickly. Amphibians around the world also remind us that every creature has purpose and benefits the whole. From potent skin compounds to proteins found in the foam nest of one species of frog, amphibians are helping humans advance in the fields of medicine and energy production.
In recent years, many amphibian populations have been in decline, a mystery yet to be solved before we lose more to extinction. For now, the pacific tree frog is abundant in most areas and with careful stewardship from humans, will continue to sing each spring for years to come.
For such a little creature, there is a lot of design packed into their versatile bodies. When you track wonder, you’ll find that there is no end to the amazing designs bestowed on each and every creature. Enjoy discovering the smallest of details, and finding ways to help these emerald wonders thrive.
Cultivate Wonder… Discover Design
When and Where – Pacific or chorus tree frogs are the state amphibian for Washington, and rightly so… they are everywhere! They are easy to miss due to their size and ability to camouflage. Their croak is the classic frog sound we equate with frogs, so listen for the loud chorus of many voices in the spring near ponds and other watery places. When visiting a pond or fountain, carefully move aquatic plant foliage to look for this one to two inch frog resting in the shadows. If you move slowly, they are often tolerant and may allow you to get a closer look or photograph. Looking is better than touching as they are quite small and delicate. Their skin also has bacteria that can be harmful to humans, so if you do handle one, be sure to wash your hands well.
In the spring, use a clear container to scoop up water with tadpoles and/or eggs for better viewing. Be gentle and always return wild animals promptly to the place you found them.
Wonder Triggers for Young Trackers
Study the frog’s appearance. Can you find the two features that only pacific tree frogs have? (black stripe under each eye and round toe pads) What else do you notice or wonder?
Study the toe pads. How do these circular pads help the frog? Try experimenting with a plastic suction cup to understand how this shape and design help this frog climb.
Look for frog eggs in the plants in or near the water. What do they look like? Are they in a nest? Do they look like they are in a safe place? Who might like to eat frog eggs?
Do you see any tadpoles in the water? Can you identify tails, legs, gills, eyes?
References and Resources
Images: SPegany, publicdomainphotos.net