Mysterious Trills, Plunks, and Peeps

Herp ID

Many states’ natural resource agencies have frog identification tips on their websites

Birds are singing along the upper Baraboo River this week, proclaiming their territories and trying to woo mates. But as I ran along the Elroy-Sparta Trail yesterday, I heard other voices as well. Wood frogs were calling, “quadda-quack, quadda-quack”. Chorus frogs were singing in short, ascending trills, and spring peepers were “peep, peep, peeping” in the wetlands along the trail.

The frogs have recently emerged from hibernation and, like songbirds, are calling for mates. This is a sound of spring that I heard – but didn’t recognize – for most of my life, until one day when my husband brought home a cassette (yes, we’re that old) entitled, “Wisconsin Frogs.” I listened, astonished, to the long trills of the American toad and the various grunts, chirps, and trills of eleven frog species. “I thought all those sounds were insects!” I exclaimed.

After all, in TV cartoons, frogs only say, “Ribbit.” Here was news: leopard frogs sounded like a slow snore; gray treefrogs made a raspy squawk; and the green frog said, “plunk, plunk,” which the narrator likened to the sound of plucking a loose banjo string.

It was like learning a new language. Suddenly the strange sounds on my springtime walks were transformed from unknowable background noise into meaningful communication. Every wetland seemed to hold dozens and dozens of frogs…and I knew which ones! I heard nuances of sound that I’d never noticed before, and became aware of the many creatures that surrounded me, even if I couldn’t see them.

 Try this:

After wearing out our cassette, we found a DVD that shows a photograph and natural history information for each frog species, while the song plays in the background. Similar recordings are available for other states and regions. However, the quickest and easiest source for learning the language of local frogs is the internet. Type “frogs” and the name of your state into a search engine and you’re likely to find at least one website with photos and calls. If your state’s website does not include audio, see the USGS Frog Quiz website, which also allows you to test your knowledge by taking an audio quiz.