Wake Audubon Blog

Learning to Cope…

i Sep 3rd 1 Comment by

By John Gerwin

I have loved the song of the Gray Tree Frog for as many years as I can remember. And I have been not-so-secretly envious of our neighbors up the street, who have had 2-3 of them in their front yard for all the years we’ve lived here. But that was it for our neighborhood. Just a few frogs in their front yard, singing gloriously in weather like this year, but none elsewhere.  I was whining about this to Jesse one day and he said “Not a problem! I have 100’s of tadpoles. I’ll bring you some, and you can raise and release them.” And so he did, and so I did. It wasn’t difficult, as I had a few extra rain barrels, and all I had to do was toss some “fish food” into the water once or twice/day.  And so one of the barrels became the tree frog nursery.  By August, there were ~100 teenager frogs heading out into the world on their own. I was amazed when two days later I found a Garter Snake alongside the small pond we have by our front porch, which is where I had placed a few dozen of these youngsters. How do they know?

Over the ensuing two years, the gray tree frogs, and their namesake, expanded.  The species has been thought of as two species for a long time – frogologists have known of vocal and chromosomal differences for many years – and those in the know, well, knew.  Other than voice or genes, the two species are indistinguishable. But it seems only recently that all this has been formalized, and the rest of us now know “ours” as the Cope’s Gray Tree Frog.

We began hearing several individuals along the edge of our neighborhood lake last year. And this year, many more – sometimes I can hear six individuals calling at once. And, this year, we finally had some in our front yard. I was able to get a variety of pictures, and one decent video/audio of one singing away below my home office window.

This is clearly a great year to be a frog, and each night that we walk the dog, we are finding up to 5 species of frogs. And to our delight, these include both Cope’s Gray and Green tree frogs – we have found (and moved) at least 4 gray’s this year (vs. one in the previous 8 years). The Cope’s have a nice splash of yellow (or orange) in the groin area, which is, as you might expect, a bit tough to see unless you pry open some frog legs. Which is precisely what I did the other night, to get some pictures.  I was quite elated to get these images and just to be fondling another tree frog – they will often sit perched on my finger while I admire them. After finishing my frog groin exposé, I went inside to get ready for bed, which included removing my contacts. It was very soon thereafter that I was reminded that these tree frogs have a potent little, mucous-membrane irritating skin toxin – their way of saying “Hey, we hardly know each other!” “Mucous-membrane” would include the eyes; and boy did they burn for a while (about an hour).  All I could do was keep rinsing with cold water, and wait (oh, and complain vociferously).

I have found surprisingly little info reported on the Internet about the toxin itself. Indeed, via a “frog forum” where a few folks wrote in to describe their own membranous experiences, one person posted a link to a research poster from 2011 that claims to be a report of the first chemical characterization of the peptide contained within the skin secretion. That peptide is the main culprit. I found this intriguing to say the least.   There is so much for us to learn…….. Which could include listening to what your Mother told you – “please wash your hands before you…….”

I have included 4 images. There are a few more, which you can view at this link:

The link will take you to my Dropbox account where I have set up a folder for this blog. Included is the R-rated “thigh” shot (not to be missed….). I’ve also included a video with audio of a gray tree frog singing on one of our tables out front. This individual, also in some of the images, appears to be missing one (the left) eye. The video is ~50 seconds. The filesize is large at 25MB so can’t be attached!

We found, and I promptly fondled, another Gray TFrg tonight while walking the dog. Just sitting in the intersection of Melbourne/Ravenwood/Grove. I must say, the really blend in well with the asphalt. I moved it……. to the side of a tree of course.