Cricket Frog Variations
There is a hierarchy of sorts in the low, wet places. The Bullfrog may be King of the swamp, and the Leopard Frog a handsome prince, but the lowly, warty little Cricket Frog is without a doubt the cosmopolitan Man About Town in the kingdom of frogs. They are everywhere, save the treetops. You can find them on the muddy banks; take a canoe into the swamps and you'll see them on lily pads and other plants far from shore. Hike into the woods and you'll find them in the damp leaf litter, hundreds of yards from water. Sometimes they are so thick in the vegetation that I first think they are a plague of little grasshoppers, launching themselves away from me at a tangent.
These little frogs are always close by or under foot when I'm down in the lowlands of southern Illinois, so I've been taking careful notice of them for the past few years. Along with their presence in all places of dampness, I am also interested in the number of color variations Cricket Frogs come in. So I've been taking a lot of pictures of them in the field, and I've been thinking about the hows and whys of their variable coloration. It's become a bit of a game to see how many patterns and colors I can record.
The Cricket Frog is a member of the frog family Hylidae, a planet-spanning family of over six hundred species, most of them treefrogs. The Cricket Frog is not a treefrog; it has very small toepads on each digit, nearly useless as an aid in climbing. The Cricket Frog's ancestors came down out of the willows and cattails and adapted to a terrestrial existence. The various species and subspecies inhabit much of the eastern halfof the United States. To be more specific, the little frog I am taking pictures of is Blanchard's Cricket Frog, Acris crepitans blanchardi. A. c. blanchardi is one of the beefier types of Cricket Frogs, reaching an inch and a half (38 mm) in length. The females of the species are typically larger and bulkier than the males.
Cricket frogs are active from March to November. They call all summer long, but I have often heard them early in the spring as well. Their call is a metallic, single note, like two pebbles being clicked together - gick gick gick. I have heard them on a hot August evening as the air pressure dropped and a thunderstorm approached - gick gick. I remember a pond along the Illinois River, where blanchardi called slowly on a cool but sunny spring afternoon - gick, gick. It is the unmistakable call of a hard-to-spot frog, one that blends in with leaf and mud, with treebark and duckweed.
Blending in is what they are best at. An inverted dark triangle between the eyes, bars across the hind legs, white marks under the eyes - all serve to distort and break up the frog silhouette, to break up the pattern called Cricket Frog into other patterns, to blend in with the background of their habitat.
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