There are many things I expected to see on my mid-September day walk. I count among these expectations, Woolley Bear caterpillars earnestly rambling across country roads, Monarch Butterflies drifting about on the airy currents, and Goldenrod flowers – lots of goldenrod flowers. On this particular day last week, a glorious one by all September standards, I saw all the above and more. What I did not anticipate was an encounter with a Spring Peeper! I mean, it is fall after all. It’s hard enough to find one of these diminutive amphibians in the springtime and even then they come out only at night. Here was a Peeper out in full view in the middle of the day and late in the season.
The tiny tan frog was sunning itself on the upper center of a red maple leaf. It stood out like a Spring Peeper on a fall day there in the full light of the sun. Unlike tree frogs that can change shade from gray to green, peepers are restricted to a particular shade of light creamy brown with a light brown “X” on the back. These features, along with the tiny bandit mask, are definitive peeper particulars. There was, therefore, no attempt to blend in or hide in this case. From its chosen position on the leaf it was obviously sunning itself.
Initially, the creature was hunkered into a tight oval pose – eyes closed and body plastered tight to the leaf surface (see above). I watched it for a short while through the camera lens so as not to disturb it. The disc-like toe pads, which clearly mark this little beast as a climber, were visible along with the dark brown underside of the back feet. You’ll have to excuse me for all this doting, for it had been a very long time since I’d seen one.
Even though I hear them every year, the last time I actually saw a live Peeper was when I caught one in the Great Smokey Mountains over 25 years ago. Back then, before the luxury of digital cameras, I took the opportunity to confine the thing in a jar and enter it as a sketch in my naturalist’s notebook. I drew a picture of one of those giant mountain millipedes on the same page This one was about the size of a breakfast sausage as I recall. Well, being at a lack of suitable containers, I put both creatures together in the same jar and the millipede killed the peeper. O.K., it didn’t outright maul it to death, but I later learned that millipedes exude a defensive poison. This millipede was apparently feeling defensive and willingly, or un-willingly, did his jar companion in. At any rate, I learned to never mix ‘pedes with peepers (a lesson I have never been able to call into play since).
Safe from the poisonous reach of giant southern millipedes, my newly discovered fall peeper was enjoying his last rays of sun. He was content with the world until the rumbling of a low flying passenger jet stirred him into action. The vibrations caused it to begin chirping. It rose up its head and rhythmically chortled until the gigantic “frog in air” moved on. Now arisen from deep slumber, the peeper took advantage of the situation to crawl up the leaf a few inches to re-position in relation to the changing angle of the sun.
After settling back into the sun worshipping mode, it resumed its tight oval pose (see here). I chose to leave the critter to its own at this stage. There are only so many pictures you can take of a resting peeper before you’ve tapped all the angles – sleeping peeper seen from the right, left, center, etc. But, because I may never see one in such a clear light again, I took all the shots I felt like and a few I didn’t feel like. I even tried to get one of the peeper peeping over the edge of the leaf just so I would have a clever title for this blog entry. But, alas my shortcomings as a photographer didn’t allow it. Had I my naturalist’s notebook I could have drawn the scene just as I wished it.
I’m sure this little peeper wishes that the sunny autumn days will never end. Soon he will have to descend to the leaf litter and bury itself before the killing frosts hit. Come to think of it, however, I really can’t know what goes on in the mind of a peeper and I am glad of it. Was this guy thinking that the jet was another frog – something like the voice of the frog god? At any rate, I would not want to know what my captive peeper was thinking 25 years ago. Was his last thought “Oh my frog god! I’m locked up with one of those freaky giant millipedes. What? No, I didn’t say anything about you. Really, I di….”