Monday, November 3, 2014

Cuddly? No. Cute? Yes!

It’s small, green and cute in an amphibian sort of way. The green treefrog, Hyla cinerea, is a native species usually found near any permanent body of water.

Peek-a-boo, I can't see you.  Everything must be fine.

Lately, I’ve become fascinated by these 1- to 2.5-inch long cuties after noticing how many green treefrogs take daytime naps in the wetland plants that grow along the edges of our lake. My observations began during my morning rowing sessions.

One of my favorite things to do when I’m on the lake is to glide slowly along the shoreline, scanning the reeds, weeds and shallow water for different signs of life. In the clear water, I often see fish, turtles and aquatic insects, while wetland plants yield a wide range of critters. Spiders, grasshoppers, dragonflies and damselflies, small birds, the occasional snake, anoles, butterflies, moths and caterpillars all find shelter and sustenance in the verdant growth sprouting out of the shallow water.

A large triploid carp chomps on a bamboo leaf that has fallen into the water

One of my first sightings of a green treefrog was on the leaf of a duck potato plant. As its Latin name,Sagittaria lancifolia, suggests, duck potato has lance-shaped leaves. However, what the plant’s botanical name doesn’t indicate is that the green hue of those large pointy leaves is practically identical to the color of a green treefrog’s skin.

"I'm hiding!" says the little green treefrog 

How clever of the nocturnal frog to select such a well-camouflaged spot for its daylight siesta. Since that first sighting, I’ve seen numerous other treefrogs snoozing on the lance-shaped leaves. While I’ve also found Hyla cinerea resting on grasses, trees and on the leaves of other wetland plants, in our lake at home, duck potato leaves are by far the preferred spot for green treefrog repose.

While also posed on a duck potato leaf, this little fellow looks like he's about to change positions

Although the body of a green treefrog is predominantly green, it has the ability to change colors from bright green to a duller green or even to gray, brown or yellow, depending on its surroundings. 

This little green treefrog has turned partially brown to better blend in with its surroundings 

Adhesive disks on the tips of each appendage enable these smooth-skinned, four-toed critters to cling securely to a wide range of surfaces. In addition to trees, weeds, leaves and reeds, green treefrogs can also attach themselves to glass. 

A sticky disk on each toe enable the green treefrog to cling easily to a wide range of surfaces

At nighttime when houses lights are on, green treefrogs can often be found clinging to windowpanes where they can make an easy meal of small insects attracted to the light.

In addition to gnats, flies and mosquitoes, a green treefrog’s diet includes beetles, beetle larvae, stinkbugs, crickets, caterpillars and any other small invertebrate they can catch with their long, elastic, sticky-tipped tongues.

A green treefrog's diet consists of a wide range of insects 

Although I’ve watched green treefrogs catch insects on a window, I’ve never seen one find food in the wild. I have, however, watched an online video of a treefrog catching crickets as well as a wonderful clip of a green treefrog vocalizing.

Below is a wonderful short video of a green treefrog calling 

For a small amphibian, a green treefrog makes a big sound. It’s able to do that because it has an expandable vocal sac under its throat to amplify air. The sac, made of an extremely thin membrane of skin, distends dramatically when filled air. In the video I watched, it looked like a giant bubble extending from the frog’s throat almost as big as the amphibian itself. With so much amplification, it’s no wonder the green treefrog’s song is loud.

I’ve always loved the sound of treefrogs singing. Now, in addition to enjoying the song they sing to attract mates and define territory, I also have the fun of searching for the well-camouflaged creatures as I patrol the lake’s perimeter by boat.

This darker colored green treefrog looks like he's ready to leap

But don’t think you have to be on the lake to find green treefrogs. Sometimes they appear in the most unexpected places. The other day when I opened my mailbox, a tiny treefrog was sitting in the far back corner of the box. I took out the mail but the left the frog. Life’s full of surprises and equally full of simple pleasures.

Do you think only male treefrog live in a mailboxes...


  1. Your photo journalism trips to share nature are appreciated. Such a nice contrast to so much of what we see.

    1. Thank you, Millie. I think we all could benefit from more positive news stories. Although I've been an NPR listener since for a long time, I can't believe how often I wind up turning off the radio to avoid hearing upsetting news. Do the same with TV and printed news.