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Chorus frogs, peepers herald spring on Delmarva - March 13, 2012

Chances are, if you live on Delmarva, you started hearing frogs call within the last week or so. Low-lying, wet areas have been filled with the sound of music -- the music of frogs. Last week, I heard chorus frogs, first, after a warm day and a rain shower.

Chorus frogs have a distinctive call that sounds like running your fingernail across the teeth of a plastic comb. Then, a day or so later, I began to hear the "peep, peep, peep," of spring peepers, another common frog species on Delmarva.

Of course, when hundreds of these frogs are calling at once, it's difficult to pick out an individual "peep," from the cacophony. Many recognize the advertisement call of male spring peepers, chorus frogs, and others as a welcome sign of spring. Of the 20 species of frogs that can be found in Maryland, many of them are heard more often than they are seen. The distinctive calls of each species can confirm their presence even if you never lay eyes on one.

The diversity of species present can serve as testament to the quality of the habitat. With their thin, highly permeable, mucous-covered skin, amphibians, which spend part of their lives in water and part on land, are particularly sensitive to the slightest changes in the aquatic and terrestrial habitats in which they live.

They are considered biological indicators of the health of the environment. Worldwide declines in amphibian and reptile populations have been occurring at an accelerated rate over the past twenty years, raising concerns for their continued success and survival.

The increasing challenges that amphibians face often result from human-induced causes including environmental pollution, habitat loss, introduced species, over-harvesting or collecting, and now, climate change.

According to Wildlife Diversity Ecologist Scott Smith at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, "amphibians will be hit the hardest" by our changing climate.

"Hotter temperatures and potentially drier weather will create problems for all species that need to keep their skin moist. Also, for all amphibians that breed in seasonal wetlands (vernal pools, Delmarva bays, etc), the altered hydroperiods that we will see from more episodic precipitation events versus more steady regular seasonal rain will have negative impacts for all except perhaps toads, which really can exploit short-term wet areas," says Smith.

Species that feed on amphibians may also be impacted. As famed conservationist John Muir reminded us, "when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

As a component of its Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan, the Maryland Coastal Bays Program has been helping to track frogs, other amphibians and reptile species -- collectively known as "herpetofauna" or "herptiles" -- for nearly 12 years.

Species accounts are recorded as part of a Lower Shore Herp Atlas project. The Lower Shore Herp Atlas is a collaborative effort between the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Salisbury University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

It is part of a five-year project organized by Maryland's Department of Natural Resources and the Natural History Society of Maryland to assess the distribution of amphibians and reptiles throughout the state of Maryland (

The Lower Shore effort is focused on Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties.

To learn more about species encountered while exploring locally, check out Amphibians and Reptiles of Delmarva, an informative and easy to use field guide written by local experts James and Amy White.

If you're interested in learning more about the Maryland Coastal Bays Program's efforts to monitor amphibian populations, or to get involved or submit photographs for identification, please contact us at

Carrie Samis is the education coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

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