Peeperpalooza Arrives in the Great Marsh

By: Audra Ebling

For much of my life, my sensory experience of springtime leaned heavily on sight and scent. The lemony yellow of a daffodil glowing against the still-dormant grass. The irresistible perfume of a neighbor’s lilac bushes, which managed to slow down my pace on my otherwise rushed walk to the train. These were unmistakable signs, for me, that spring was finally arriving after a long, cold Chicago winter. But I have found that in northwest Indiana, the earliest hints of spring can be detected not with my eyes or nose but with my ears. The sounds of the Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) are distinct, and sometimes deafening, and always delightful to me and my family. Especially on those rare early spring nights when it’s miraculously warm enough to open the windows. In fact, these loud little guys even inspired me to follow the Westchester Public Library’s recent social media prompt to write an acrostic poem about spring in honor of National Poetry Month:

So many voices chiming in

Peepers are the first sound

Resonating across the marshes

In the earliest days of a new season when

No other signs can yet be discerned

Giving us hope that spring is almost here

The only distressing thing to me about peeper season, at least in Beverly Shores, is their propensity to travel, which often involves crossing a road. A very risky proposition, unfortunately, as evidence of failed crossings is all too common. One morning in March I encountered so many poised along or hopping across the roads that it felt like I was witnessing a pilgrimage. Which, I guess, I was. According to the Hoosier Herpetological Society, “breeding is triggered by rainfall anytime in early spring.” It had rained the night before, and the roads were still wet, as you can see in the photos I snapped. That’s what was happening, and I felt lucky to see so many of the little frogs, which usually are more elusive.

Looking downward as you meander the roads and trails is your best bet if you want to catch a glimpse of the peeper. According to the National Wildlife Federation: “Although they are good climbers, they spend most of their time on the ground, often hiding under leaf litter during the day.” The prevalence of peepers in this region is not much of a mystery. The NWF tells us their ideal habitat is “moist, wooded areas, fields, and grassy lowlands near ponds and wetlands.” Beverly Shores checks all those boxes and while you can hear them from most parts of town this time of year, an extra-large concentration – if noise level is an indication – seems to be along the Heinze Trust’s Bellevue Charing trails. The NWF’s description of their sounds is evocative: “Spring peepers are known for the males’ mating call—a high-pitched whistling or peeping sound repeated about 20 times a minute. However, the faster and louder they sing, the greater the chances of attracting a mate. They often congregate near water and sing in trios, with the deepest-voiced frog starting the call. They begin breeding early in the spring and call on warm spring nights and during the day in rainy or cloudy weather.”

Little frogs that frolic amid leaf litter and sing in trios? Seriously, what’s not to love? As spring inches ever closer to the warmer days and full leaves of summer, be sure to enjoy the feast for your eyes and nose: The shades of green that highlight the red of the dogwood branches, the light yet somehow rich scent of the forest detritus stirred up by spring rains. But don’t forget to listen.

Beyond the birdcalls and the wind-tossed branches, there’s another sound, a peeping, if you will. And it’s telling you something important and amazing: Spring is definitely here. 

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