What Made the Frogs Go Quiet?

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The Question: I live by Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. Early spring, we hear hundreds if not thousands of frogs, all day and all night. Then….nothing, not one froggy peep. What happened? Did they leave? Or do they only do their frog noises for mating season? They were quite vocal for a few weeks and then all stopped!  But about four days later I heard maybe a few again.  I really don’t hear too much of the frogs now, which is weird.  As hot as it has been and living a stone throw from Lake Minnetonka I would think that frogs would make noise continuously.

Submitted by: Fran, MN, USA

wood frogThe Short Answer: Frogs and toads only call when they are breeding. The calls are basically advertisements to females to come closer and to males to stay away. Of course, a calling frog also says to every predator in the area, “Here I am. Come and eat me.” So basically, frogs use their calls to get mates and then they shut up. The breeding season of each species is different, however. Wood frogs (Rana sylvatica), for example, start calling when there is still ice on the ponds and call like crazy for a few weeks and then don’t make another sound the rest of the year. Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana), on the other hand, don’t start calling until mid-late spring and then continue well into summer. Even during their mating season, frogs and other amphibians can be very sensitive to environmental factors in terms of when they call. It’s impossible to know what flipped the switch on your frogs without knowing which species you were hearing and what the weather conditions were, but if I had to take a wild stab, I would guess that you had a few hot and/or windy days and the frogs stopped to wait for better conditions.

spring peeperMore Information: Researchers have studied when frogs call and what fires them up. They want to know this out of basic scientific curiosity, and also because wildlife managers use frog calling as a way to gauge population levels. With so many amphibians in decline in the U.S. and around the world, finding ways to track population levels is a key conservation tool.

There are many factors that seem to affect frog calling levels, and each species is affected differently, but a few key ones are air and water temperature, wind speed, relative humidity, and barometric pressure. Temperature is key because both the frogs and their eggs and tadpoles are adapted to different temperature levels and frogs that mate and lay eggs at a time when the water is too hot or too cold for their offspring to develop well will not leave many descendants. For example, one study in New Brunswick, Canada found that spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) called when the water temperature was as low as 39 oF (4 oC), but they stopped calling when the water temperature went above 71 upland chorus frogoF (22 oC). Bullfrogs, on the other hand, don’t call at all until the water warmed up to 60 oF (16 oC)  and they kept going until it was 79 oF (26 oC).

Wind speed and relative humidity may play a role because frogs are susceptible to drying, and since calling for most frogs requires being out of the water, exposure to drying wind is a problem.  Wind noise may also drown out the calls.  Since calling takes a lot of energy, there’s no sense in wasting all that energy if no one can hear.

The remarkable thing is that because all of the frogs of any one species in one area are similarly adapted to conditions of that locality, they can all switch on or switch off with amazing synchronicity. One night, the chorus frogs (Pseudacris feriarum) are calling like crazy, and the next night there is silence. High temperature in particular seems to have this effect. And the effect of high temperature is fairly universal across many species of amphibians, which is why I suspect that if you had several species calling and then silence, it was probably a rise in temperature that switched them all off at once.

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Oseen, K, & Wassersug, R. (2002). Environmental factors influencing calling in sympatric anurans. Oecologia, 133(4), 616-625.

Cite this article as: Pelletier, TC. (June 17, 2011). What Made the Frogs Go Quiet? Retrieved from http://askanaturalist.com/what-made-the-frogs-go-quiet/ on April 26, 2017.

13 thoughts on “What Made the Frogs Go Quiet?”

  1. This is just the most interesting and informative site! I do love frogs, but you always find the most fascinating information to share with us, no matter what the topic. Keep up the great work!

  2. Fantastic! Thank you so much for taking the time and research! It must be a brief mating time again since the frogs once again are being rather vocal.

  3. I live in Illinois and there is a shallow pond next to our house. We moved here last summer and did not hear any bullfrog calls last year. This spring we started hearing tis noise aNd did not know what it was. Upon asking our neighbors we found out they were bull frogs. They make so much noise that I had to get a noise machine at night to help me sleep. Is there something we could do or call an agency to help with this?

  4. Hi, I’m not sure there is anything you can do to stop the frogs croaking other than drain the pond or kill all the frogs, and neither of those is likely to be legal. Could you maybe put up a fence that would at least deflect the sound? Tom

  5. I relealize this s an older article, but you have bullfrogs do not call out until the water warmed up to 60 degrees centigrade, or 168 degrees F.

    Maybe a test to make sure we were reading the entire article !

  6. Yikes! I’ll fix that. Thanks for pointing it out. We don’t want to have people cooking frogs to see if they croak!

  7. On a given night the frogs near our house will all croak for some time and then all stop at once for 30 seconds to a minute or so. Then one frog will start and others will chime in until the chorus is as loud as ever. This repeats many times during the night. Why do they do this, and how do they communicate so that they all stop at once?

  8. Same here! They seem to compete for length of croak and alternate back and forth. Then, briefly, they all stop. I think it’s funny as I picture them competing for the mate.l have a frog phobia but sitting at my deck at night, it’s a great connection to nature!

  9. We have Spring Peepers in their thousands at our pond. When it rains the chorus is deafening. Last night the racket turned into a single sound like a fire alarm siren, never heard this before, comments anyone?

  10. I have lived on a lake in northern Indiana for the past twelve years and every year the bull frogs are enough to irritate just about anyone but this year (2016) there are no bull frogs at all and the lake is protected by the state and there has been no predators or natural changes that would of made 1000’s of bull frogs to disappear and to top it all off my wife and I have seen strange lights floating above the lake this summer if anyone has been wondering what’s happened to the bull frogs please share your story maybe it will lead to some serious answers besides natural conditions because they’ve been perfect for bull frogs on my lake there has been no bull frog bodies anywhere so is it out of this world why the bull frogs have disappeared

  11. Hi Andrew, any possiibility that a new fish species has been introduced? Or that the state is stocking the lake with trout? What is the name of the lake?

  12. I can’t believe someone would dislike the sound of frogs….I actually find it puts me to sleep. I really miss it when it gets cold and they stop.

  13. Normailly here in Costa Rica we enjoy frog songs. There have been no frog songs at all in the area where I live in 2016 which is weird because for the last 25 years I heard them always in rainy season, this year I didnt hear anything. Last year we had very hot temperatures…Yet our rainy season was extra long and great so I wonder what happened to All the frogs and toads this year???!!!

    I just hope the frog songs come back some day because I love hearing and seeing them.

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