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In addition to cicadas and tree crickets, toads also sing at night in the desert. Because it so dry here for most of the year, these toads stay dormant in underground chambers until the summer rains come. When the rains start the toads erupt from the ground, rush to puddles and attempt complete their entire life cycle before the puddles dry out, sometimes in only 7 days. We have several common species of frogs and toads, but one of the most amazing is the Couch's spadefoot toad.

In this video you can see and hear the adult males calling, tadpoles in temporary puddles, and "toadlets" hopping away. Note: If you have young, sensitive children be aware that cannibalism of tadpoles is mentioned, although not shown.

Sounds like sheep baaing? Well, maybe.

In this video a spadefoot toad is digging into soil. Spadefoot toads may stay underground as long as two years if the rains don't come. This video is silent.

Activities:

1. Get to know your local frogs and toads.

First of all, what is the difference between a frog and a toad?

As it turns out, the terms "frog" and "toad" are common names, they are not scientifically-based groups. According to frog taxonomists, all frogs and toads belong to a group called "frogs." Although many people call the bumpy, dry land-dwelling creatures "toads" and the smooth-skinned, pond-dwelling creatures "frogs," there are a number of species that are hard to place into one of those groups, such as the smooth-skinned spadefoot toads shown above. Check Frogs and Toads for more information.

To learn more about frogs, take a field trip to a pond or wetland.

frog

Gather:

  • Boots
  • Pictures of frog and toad life stages
  • Identification guides if available
  • Camera and/or paper and pencil to record what you see

What you may see:

frog eggs

When I see frog eggs, I always think of punctuation. They start out a dark round periods, and then right before they hatch they turn into commas. Always leave eggs alone because handling them may damage their jelly coating.

tadpoles

tadpole

The larvae, commonly called tadpoles, are often easy to spot along the shore. Sometimes you may see a mix of different kinds. In this case the larger light-brown tadpoles are bullfrogs.

If you are very lucky, you may discover some of the tadpoles beginning to grow legs.

Ask everyone to be quiet and stand still in order to see adult frogs. Typically the adults swim away quickly when there are rapid movements nearby.

frog

Can you identify the adults? Are they common species?

Frog fact: Frogs regularly live 4-15 years, and sometimes much longer. Keep this in mind if you decide to raise one.

2. Frog Songs

Visit the same wetlands or pond at night to listen to frogs and toads singing. Ever hear the spring peepers? These tiny frogs can make a tremendous racket early in the spring.

If possible, make recordings of different types of frogs and toads singing. Or listen to recordings, such as at Sing to me baby! ...Ribbit!

Try to mimic the calls yourself. Can you tell the different kinds apart? Before long you should be able to recognize different frogs based on their calls alone.

Older kids might want to try playing recordings of male frogs singing at ponds at night and see if they can attract female frogs.

Think of ways to design an experiment to find out if only the male frogs sing, or whether the females do too.

3. Eat or be eaten

While you are studying frogs and toads, try to figure out what they eat at each stage and what eats them.

The spadefood toads mentioned above eat insects that swarm at the same time the frogs are active. Both ants and termites tend to produce new queens and males in swarms when the summer monsoons start. At times the air will be filled with flying and mating insects. It is a great time for the toads to store up a lot of food to survive the rest of the year underground. Amazing!

Let us know what you find out.

For more information, try these resources:

Insect Lore Frog Life Cycle Stages

Nonfiction Books for Children:

Face to Face with Frogs (Face to Face with Animals)
by Mark Moffett

Mark Moffett is one of my favorite photographers. His work is often seen in National Geographic, which published this book.

From Tadpole to Frog (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 1)
by Wendy Pfeffer and illustrated by Holly Keller

Frogs by Gail Gibbons, a prolific and award-winning author

Frog (Watch Me Grow)
by DK Publishing

For the younger set.

Book for Adults:
Frog: A Photographic Portrait
by Thomas Marent and Tom Jackson

The Calls of Frogs and Toads
by Lang Elliott
Book and CD

Disclosure:
I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Although we expect to hear cicadas this time of year, there's a new sound at night in our yard that we didn’t predict. Follow this link to hear what it sounds like:

Any idea what it might be?

These photos might be a clue.

tree cricket female

This individual is a female, which because of her long egg-laying tube or ovipositor. She isn’t the singer, however, only the males sing.

tree cricket female

This is a female tree cricket (genus Oecanthus). A tree cricket is more slender and delicate than the common field cricket. One type of tree cricket, the snowy tree cricket, is used as a thermometer because the frequency of its chirps can be used to calculate the temperature. The snowy tree cricket has a similar appearance to this one, but it is pale green or almost white.

Based on the tan coloration, this is probably the western tree cricket. Although we’ve seen and heard tree crickets in other parts of Arizona before, this is the first time we’ve had them in our yard.

The tree cricket males sing in a different way than cicadas. Instead of vibrating tymbals, the male tree crickets rub ridges on their wings together. Check Grasshoppers & Allies Supplemental: Tree Crickets (Oecanthus) for photos of male western tree crickets using their wings to chirp.

So, what animals are you hearing in your area right now?

If you child is interested in crickets, try reading some of these:

Nonfiction:
Chirping Crickets (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 2) by Melvin Berger and Megan Lloyd (Illustrator)

Part of the Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, these are always well-written and researched books.

Crickets and Grasshoppers by Ann O. Squire

Related Fiction:
The Very Quiet Cricket Board Book by Eric Carle

The Cricket in Times Square (Chester Cricket and His Friends)
by George Selden and Garth Williams (Illustrator)

For adults:
Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States by John L. Capinera, Ralph D. Scott, and Thomas J. Walker

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

Any idea what this alien-looking creature is?

cicada

Cicadas are large insects with bulging eyes. This one is whitish because it has a fungal disease.

cicada mouthpart

Father’s Day marks the beginning of the cicada season here in the Sonoran Desert. The emergence of these noisy insects predicts the beginning of a change in the weather, with higher humidity and the onset of the violent rains called monsoons. Unlike the spectacular periodical cicadas, our cicadas emerge every year. They sing on and off for a month or so.

Ever wondered how the cicadas produce their loud buzz? On the sides of the male cicadas (although some females have them, too) are two thin areas called tymbals. When muscles inside pull on the tymbals, they collapse causing a click. When the muscles release, the tymbal clicks again as it snaps back.

The video of the tymbal moving in slow motion at Discovery Channel's Time Warp: Cicada Sounds is very cool.  The tymbal is the white area that is moving in and out. Too bad there isn't any sound to go with it.  Note: the short advertisement at the beginning of this video may not be appropriate for young children.

According to the schedule, the entire Time Warp episode with the cicada footage (it is called Stuntmen) is being aired on the Discovery Channel on Monday June 21 at 9:00 am. It is rated TV-PG. It might be a fun way to start summer.