A Busman’s Holiday By: Kevin Williams, Grundy County Conservation Director
July 19, 2013
There has been many a trip or outing over the years that at some point has resulted in my sharing about wildlife or conservation or something like that. I took a trip recently where I a mini naturalist moment occurred. I was up in Red Wing, Minnesota this past week for the annual Red Wing Collectors Society Convention. Outside of my wildlife interests, I enjoy collecting stoneware which includes that made in Red Wing years ago. I was sitting at a friend’s house one of the evenings “talking crocks” when from the shrubs near the house came a rather disconcerting sound. “What was that?” someone asked. Before anyone could offer a suggestion, the sound came again this time almost from under the chair of one unsuspecting person beside me. He jumped from his chair and screamed “It’s over here now!” (OK – what he really said contained some expletives that aren’t printed here but I chuckle even now at the scream like a girl sound he made.) “It’s a bird” someone offered. “No, I’ve heard that sound before” said another, “it’s a baby raccoon.” It was in fact neither of those things but if you’ve heard Gray Tree Frogs singing you could describe it as either of those, I suppose. I identified the sound for those in attendance and the smiling owner of the property explained that there were several of them that lit up in chorus almost every evening. “They are almost impossible to find, too” he said. “They holler until you get a bit too close and then shut off”. I switched from crock collector to conservationist for a few minutes and talked a little about tree frogs. That isn’t too hard to do given that I have always liked tree frogs. We had as many as seven this spring and summer at our house. I would wander slowly out around the backyard pond in the evening in the direction of the sound and when I got near the little critter would go silent. Time and time again, I have had the same result. Folks were surprised when they heard that the critter making that sound was only about two inches long. It is actually easier for me to find them in the daylight when they are resting. They will generally slide into a crevice like tree bark or the lap of house siding or some other place and change color to more closely blend with the background. They aren’t quite as good at it as a chameleon but on that order. They’ll be bright green if need be or in a matter of a few minutes be grayish-white if location and background changes to that. They overwinter under shelters of bark, leaves, rocks or logs. These frogs prevent ice crystals from forming in their organs by changing glycerol into glucose which circulates through the organs. The remaining water in the body is allowed to freeze. The frog is basically frozen until spring! Gray tree frogs catch insects and other invertebrates for food. They can be quite acrobatic catching flying insects in mid air. It is even one of those animals that after “Lo these many years since college” I can still remember the scientific name – Hyla versicolor. They truly are versatile in their color. Another cool thing about tree frogs are the sticky pads on the bottoms of their toes. They can hang on a vertical surface for hours without problems and even upside down with what appears little effort. And they can stand some rough action, too. I even gave one a ride on the hood of my lawnmower one afternoon while I did that chore. He didn’t complain.
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