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Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, bringing to mind the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” If he had written that today instead of 1835, he would probably have mentioned “a young woman’s fancy” as well. And had he been an ecologist rather than poet laureate of Britain, he might have noted that as days grow longer and nights get shorter, courtship and romantic engagement in the Northern Hemisphere become prevalent throughout the animal kingdom. Some performances are already underway.

Each year when Valentine’s Day arrives, the sounds of musical breeding choruses of a tiny frog can be heard in the southeastern states, progressing to northern states into April. These are spring peepers, a species in a group known as chorus frogs that are found from northern Florida throughout the eastern and much of the midwestern United States and well into Canada. They are called “spring” peepers because the person who described the first one in 1838 thought it was a specimen from Kansas. In other words, people who first noticed them and named them lived in midwestern or northern states where these frogs begin breeding in early spring.

I once heard and saw them calling at night in April from a pond in Michigan when the edges of the pond were lined with ice and the air temperature was in the 30s. In the South conditions like those of a northern spring are more likely to occur in winter, so spring peepers often can be heard calling in February in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. A southern winter night around Valentine’s Day can be ideal for these little creatures to entertain thoughts of love and begin their mating activity. They are also one of the few frogs that often call during the day. If you happen to see a spring peeper, they are readily recognizable because of a dark brown X on their lighter brown body.

Chilly winter nights seem like a miserable time of year to go searching for a mate. Why would an animal come out then for such an important biological activity? The answer is in the question itself: it is a “miserable time” for many animals. That means fewer predators (no snakes or turtles will be active) to eat the adults or their eggs. Most late spring- and summer-breeding frogs will not have tadpoles in the ponds to compete with spring peeper tadpoles.

The kinds of frogs one is most likely to hear calling around Valentine’s Day in the Southeast are spring peepers because they are the most common. But other chorus frogs also breed in the winter and could be calling; most produce rather musical notes. Spring peepers sound kind of like high-pitched whistles that collectively sound like tinkling bells. Other chorus frogs sound like someone rubbing a thumb over the teeth of a comb. The ornate chorus frog, a beautiful creature that can be copper-colored, light gray or bright green makes a sound like a hammer striking a steel spike. All chorus frogs breed in winter and early spring, even on cold nights when few other animals are afoot. Because of the numerous kinds of frogs that mate in the summer into fall in many parts of the Southeast, one or more species of frogs can be heard calling every month of the year.


For almost any form of identifiable human behavior, an equivalent or near-equivalent can be found somewhere in the animal kingdom. The assertion that in spring a young person’s fancy turns to thoughts of love is no exception. Frogs are amazing creatures, and people living in the Southeast are fortunate in being able to enjoy them year-round, including Valentine’s Day. Despite the prospect of an ice storm or possibly even snow, the spring peepers will be calling to us.

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A winter-breeding frog of the eastern United States, the spring peeper is one of the most likely to be heard calling around Valentine’s Day. Photo courtesy Tom Luhring