Elms Environmental Education Center

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Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

March 2016: Spring Peeper

 Photo: USGS

Northern Spring Peeper

Pseudacris crucifer

Who am I?

 I am a small frog, a tree frog, though I really don't like to climb trees. You will usually find me near the ground. I am usually about an inch long, about the size of a paper clip, with a distinctive "x" marking on my back. Like most amphibians, my color will depend on where I live -- I like to blend in. My mom will lay individual eggs in quiet water sometime in late March and I will hatch out about 10 days later. After 2-3 months as a tadpole I will change, metamorphose, into a frog. In winter I will hibernate in the ground or under logs. i am a nocturnal animal which means i am out and about at night, hunting mostly During the day I will sleep under leaves and logs.

Where can you find me?

 We are native to the easy coast of North America, south to Georgia. Our cousins, the southern spring peeper, live in Georgia and Florida. We are hard to find but we live in just about any type of standing water, from vernal pools, to ditches to ponds. You will hear us in early spring while driving at night with the window open.

What do I eat?

 All kinds of small insects including beetles, ants, bugs and spiders.

What might eat me?

 Because I am so small (it is never a good thing to be the size of some predator's mouth) I must watch out for all kinds of predators. These include skunks, raccoon, birds, turtles, other frogs, snakes, fish, predacious water beetles and spiders.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • Most of my body can be frozen solid in the winter and I will thaw out happily in the spring.
  • Some people call me "Pinkletinks"
  • Only males call at night and the female chooses her mate by how fast the male can peep.
  • When lots of us are calling at the same time it sounds like "jingle bells". With so many of us calling it is hard for predators to isolate any one of us.

February 2016: Belted Kingfisher

male belted kingfisher 

Photo: Kevin Cole
Belted Kingfisher
Megaceryle alcyon

Who am I?

 You have probably seen or heard me around your local stream, river, creek or pond. I am brightly colored with a big head and short stout body. I fly really fast and rattle loudly when I am flying. We are abundant and widespread throughout the United States, though we are solitary critters so you will not find large groups of us together -- we need and defend a fairly large territory to make sure we have enough food for ourselves and our family. My mate and I will get together in the spring, in early April, and build a den in the bank of a stream, pond, road cut -- wherever there are not a lot of trees. Our dens are underground and can go up to 8 feet into the bank ending in a small chamber just large enough to hold our little family. My mate will lay 5-8 eggs, perhaps twice a year and our babies will hatch out in a little less than a month. Three weeks later we sill stop feeding the little ones and they are on their own.

Where can you find me?

 Near water. Any water; streams, creeks ponds, lakes, estuaries -- anywhere there are small fish to eat. We really like beaver ponds. We can be found throughout North America, living year-round in most of the lower United States and migrating from Canada south to Mexico and Central America whe the ponds freeze over.

What do I eat?

 Mostly fish, crustaceans, mollusks and other aquatic animals. I will hang out on a branch overlooking the water looking for lunch. Then I leap off the perch and dive straight into the water. Sometimes I will hover over the water like an Osprey and strike from there. 

What might eat me?

 My young and I can be eaten by raccoon and foxes. Our eggs and babies are especially vulnerable to snakes. Those nasty hawks and owls will try to eat us as well.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • Females are, unusually, more colorful than males. Look for the brownish-red band across the female's chest.
  • We are fun to watch when we are fishing. Oh and when we are choosing out mate which entails a lot of rattling, a silly dance and a fish for a gift.
  • To avoid hawks we will sometimes dive into the water there the hawk cannot follow.
  • Like owls we regurgitate the parts of the fish we cannot digest -- kingfisher pellets.
  • Our family of birds dates back at least 2 million years.

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