I Heard the Leopard Chuckle

by Gene Ott

Most of my life I have short changed the amphibians. I usually found them coincidentally to searching for reptiles: Marbled and Slimy Salamanders while turning over logs in the woodlands; Green, Leopard, and Bull Frogs in the swamps and other wetlands; and Fowler Toads in the yards and fields. Even after I started my South Carolina Reptiles and Amphibians web project, I still focused mainly on the reptiles. Last summer I decided I needed to attend more closely to the amphibians.

Amphibians are great news for avid herpetologists. Like reptiles, amphibians are active in the warmer months; but unlike the reptiles they are also active in the cooler months. Some salamander species even breed during the fall and winter months. The early spring is a madhouse of frog mating activity. Amphibians are active during the heavy rainy nights and days when most reptile activity is suppressed.

When searching for snakes, the prevailing operating premise is that snakes are where you find them; that is, you can pick the most appealing location on the most favorable weather conditions and still have poor results. Amphibians are more predictable. Many species have large populations and when the conditions are right they do the things that amphibians do: feed, sing, roam and mate. You can spend an entire day or night searching and finding amphibians within a few acres of wetlands.

During the last week of February 1999, it snowed on Wednesday. By Friday the weather had warmed to about 60 degrees F. The temperature remained pleasant on Saturday. After planting some red potatoes, I decided to scout the wetland areas in the floodplain of Rabon Creek. I examined a seasonal pool in which I had found newly hatched salamander larvae during the past fall. The pool now contained much more water. There was a mass of eggs attached to a flooded weed in the deepest area of the pool. Using a dip net I made few scoops in the submerged vegetation at the edge of a perennial pool located less than a hundred feet away. I netted two Red-spotted Newts. On a nearby pile of cedar fence posts I found an adult Green Anole Lizard basking in the sunlight.

I moved out into the open pasture area which is traversed by several drainage swells. From overhead I heard the swirl cries of three Red-shouldered Hawks performing mating aerobatics. In one of the swells I found many masses of eggs . I noted the area for a visit after dark.

That evening, my son and I headed out to visit the same wetlands. In the seasonal pool, my son used the dip net to capture several salamander larvae. Their size appeared right to be siblings of the larvae I had found in the fall. We tried to identify them; our best guess is the Marbled Salamander. He also netted a cadis fly nymph with its rolled leaf house. Under a piece of driftwood, my son found an adult American Toad. I was particularly pleased with this specimen. Since starting the Internet project, I had been trying to find a specimen to photograph. As I mentioned earlier, I have not been very attentive to the amphibians. I knew we had American Toads in my home area, but every specimen I found turned out to be a Fowlers Toad. With one specimen, I deluded myself into thinking that I had an American Toad and erroneously posted its picture on the website. Now I had a true specimen to photograph.

One of my principal objectives for the evening was to obtain recordings of some frog species. The frogs had ceased singing in our immediate area, but further out into the pasture I could hear a cacophony of their calls. I heard the nearly continuous, comb-like clickings of Upland Chorus Frogs. I also heard the Southern Leopard Frogs chuckling.

We approached another isolated pool where we heard some chorus frogs. I moved without using my flashlight to a point directly across from the location of a particularly loud frog call. After recording a few minutes of the sounds, I pointed my light in the direction of the call and turned it on. I saw a large Green Frog on the bank, out of the water. It did not move and I was able to take its picture. The call I recorded sounded identical to the call of the chorus frog. I must conclude that the Green Frog was not singing. What was it doing in this location if not seeking a mate? It was large enough to easily make a meal of the diminutive chorus frog. I will have to investigate this further. We visited the pool again on our return to the truck and the Green Frog was still sitting in the same spot. Its skin had dried and its color was now very dark.

We walked to the location in the drainage swell where I had found the numerous egg masses during the afternoon. We immediately spied a Fowlers Toad sitting in the water. Then we found a large Southern Leopard Frog sitting in the water about five feet away. We heard leopard frogs calling from a pool about fifty feet away. There we found several small frogs floating in the water with just their heads exposed. We netted one to make a positive identification; they were Southern Leopard Frogs, presumably males.

The next morning the chorus frogs were singing loudly in the drainage ditches. My son and I walked to them. After making a sound recording, we were able to find a pair of Upland Chorus Frogs clinging to the grass stalks in the ditch. We captured the pair to make a positive identification. Even after capture, transport in a plastic bag, examination under a magnifying glass and further photographing, the pair remained attached. They were still attached when we released them.

That night, the spring peepers were loudly whistling from the shallow end of the pond. I went down and recorded their songs. I moved to within a foot or two of the location of one of the troubadours. I wanted to capture it to make a positive identification. Try as I might, I could not spot the frog. I found a leopard frog who chuckled occasionally, but the Northern Spring Peeper evaded me.

Return to South Carolina Reptiles and Amphibians Herping Tales Page

April 15, 1999