A new troop of musicians has entered the natural chorus in the yard, and I was lucky enough to get a photo of one of them about 10 days ago. This darkly colored little cutie hiding in the mud is a northern cricket frog, Acris crepitans. It was pure serendipity that I carried my camera that day on my walk-about, and even more serendipitous that the temperatures were cool enough that my subject posed more or less willingly for me.
I believe the plant beside him is a young giant ragweed. He is about 1" in length, by rough estimate. He was exactly where I would expect him to be on our property: in the draw, close to the standing pools of water in an area transitioning from old pond bottom to intermittent stream. The photo below was taken just a few yards from where I saw him, about a week later.
Northern cricket frogs eat small insects, including mosquitoes, and they are said to eat tremendous quantities of them: enough to fill their stomachs 3 times a day. This guy is therefore particularly welcome to continue living in the draw!
As the year moves on, I'm hearing fewer of the chorus frogs now, and more of the cricket frogs. The cricket frog's song is accurately and picturesquely described as "two small pebbles being tapped together" on the Kansas Anuran Monitoring Program Site (http://www.naherpetology.org/kamp/default.asp?page=taxa&taxon_id=7).
Interestingly, as I've done a little web research to find out more about the range and niche of northern cricket frogs, this species is listed as endangered in New York and Minnesota, and as a species of concern in Michgian. Like so many other amphibians, its populations appear to be declining fairly rapidly. There have been several hypotheses put forward about the reason for these worldwide amphibian declines - fungal infections seem to be a common theme - but the total picture of the cause or causes is not known yet. Even if fungal infections that result in death are the final cause and effect, I have to wonder why there has been such a radical and sudden increase in those fungal infections. What factor(s) has made amphibians less resistant to these infections...or conversely made the infections more deadly for the amphibians?