Tag Archives: northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans)

Little things and the follower

I have been remiss.  Not just recently, but over these past months.  Remiss in what, you ask?  In posting photos, of course!

Mind you, I’ve been busy.  I now live at our family farm in East Texas, thus I pull my weight with farm work each and every day.  Also, I’ve been somewhat myopic in my focus on writing, namely with regards to my first, second and third novels.

But none of this means I’ve disregarded my passion for photography.  Instead, it means I’ve accumulated an unhealthy number of photographs which have yet to be shared.  Then again, that describes my usual state with regards to pictures: I take far more than will ever be seen by anyone but me, and regularly I’m forced to delete vast swaths of digital data to make room for vast swaths of new digital data.

Oh well.

Lest I careen off the tracks of coherence and ramble ad nauseam about how little time I have, let me instead direct this train of thought toward my point.  Assuming I have a point, I mean.

Back in March of this year I ambled about our delightful haven tucked away in the Piney Woods.  With home nestled in the wild, it’s never difficult to find things of interest, and so it was on that marvelously comfortable spring day when…

An eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) crawling along a bit of dead wood (IMG_0426)

…I first discovered a veritable horde of eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) wandering throughout the farm, from deep in the woods to right outside the door.  Because they produce cyanide, the primary reason for their aposematic coloration, the chickens avoid them and Cooter, our miniature pinscher (or “min pin” for short), must be restrained from eating them.

He eats pretty much anything he can get in his mouth save broccoli, so we really have to manage his consuming ways.  It’s not uncommon for him to eat something and then spend several hours swelling from allergic reactions or vomiting from an upset tummy.  But anyway…

The tent caterpillars obviously had a good year given their abundance and everywhere travels.  And whilst snapping pictures of the little poisonous critter, something leaped over my foot and landed atop a bed of dry leaves.  Taking a closer look revealed…

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) sitting atop dead leaves (IMG_0469)

…a northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans)!  One of the smallest vertebrates in North America, with adults hardly larger than a thumbprint, these amphibians always bring a smile to my face.

Not just because they’re so small, mind you, but also because they’re quite vocal during mating season and because—at least here in Texas—it’s not difficult to find them throughout the year.  Assuming the weather cooperates, of course.

But I had walked to “the bottom” as we call it—where a natural spring and the old pump house hide in woods that stretch down steep hills—because I wanted to check on Mom’s beloved dogwoods.  Drought and fire had done in many of the trees.  Well, drought and fire had done in many trees period, but I had gone to check on the dogwoods, so let’s keep our focus there.

Much to my surprise and Mom’s joy…

Close-up of a bloom on flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) (IMG_0570)

…flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) had indeed survived, although their numbers stand greatly reduced.  And with the tent caterpillars lurking about, well, they’ve become an endangered species at the farm, hence I try to keep an eye on them and initiate action should they need assistance.

With dogwoods confirmed as alive and well, even if in small numbers, I left the bottom and made my way beyond the high pasture to the woods atop the hill, a hill whereupon one can see for miles.  And in the woods…

An unidentified seedling growing through a thick verdant carpet of atrichum moss (a.k.a. lesser smoothcap; Atrichum angustatum) (IMG_0470)

…atrichum moss (a.k.a. lesser smoothcap; Atrichum angustatum) had created thick verdant carpets of green amidst the lifeless detritus from the previous autumn and the just-sprouting greens of a new spring.  Several mosses and moss-like plants had reclaimed the forest floor in patches that promised “soon will” in a world of “once was.”

Each deserved attention and each received close inspection.  And near one of them…

A perforate dome (Ventridens demissus) meandering across a sandy plot of land (IMG_0490)

…wandering across a sandy clearing a perforate dome (Ventridens demissus) carried its abode as it journeyed through woods that made the snail seem microscopic, where trees dwarfed the mollusk, mocked it even with calls of “Hey, tiny!” and “Short people got no reason…”

Undeterred by the utter barbarity of these ligneous cretins, the miniscule creature never thought twice about my in-its-face photography, instead focusing on its trip to who knows where with the intent of taking care of who knows what.

With such a focus on little things that caught my eye, not once did I move through the high tree world without full knowledge of my follower, its song clear and constant, its presence often visible, its curiosity forever contradicting its name.  For never far from me and always within sight was…

A hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) perched on a branch (IMG_0560)

…a hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus), flitting about from branch to branch and tree to tree, calling here and singing there, perpetually gazing at me, watching, monitoring, interested.

Though I’ve seen this species of bird many times, never has one been so adamantly attached to my location, the avian security guard protecting nature’s mall.  Or at least the inquisitive feathered onlooker who can’t stand not seeing the lumbering ape walking the woods.

Cricket frogs

One of the smallest vertebrates in North America is the cricket frog.  Only one of the two species lives in Texas: the northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans).  Adults grow to about the size of a thumbprint, give or take, and they are highly variable in colors and patterns (polymorphism).

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) hiding in the grass (2009_09_27_029452)

I have to admit they can be difficult to photograph despite being active all year (even in winter).  Their size alone helps them vanish beneath the smallest things, like blades of grass or a fallen leaf.  Thankfully they’re numerous—very numerous—and they hang out in all the places where I tend to walk.  Actually, they hang out pretty much everywhere, something that makes them rather cosmopolitan among amphibians.

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) hiding in leaf litter (2009_10_17_032275)

They’re quite the leapers, too.  They can jump up to six feet/two meters, which is pretty doggone impressive for their size.  Though the motion can help me find them if I don’t already know they’re in the area, it also means they can vanish in the blink of an eye if they leap into thick foliage or tall grass.

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) hiding in grass (2009_09_26_029072)

I find many who look like paint has splattered on them, various splotches of green, black, gray, red or myriad other colors scattered along their head and back.  But do you notice a certain shape on its head?

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) perched on a dead leaf (2009_09_26_029170)

There’s a different angle.  It’s a heart.  I see a lot of them with that neat little mark, though not all of them, and it ranges in color and brightness.  (Technically it’s a triangle, not a heart, but where’s the fun in calling it a triangle?)

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) resting on a dead leaf (2009_09_26_029189)

The light stripe running from the eye to the front leg is also a good indicator, but like the rest of their traits, not all of them have it.

Considering how common they are here, seeing them is never a problem.  Recognizing them is quite another thing.  Their size makes them seem like juveniles of several different species, the unending array of colors and patterns can be confusing, and their bumpy skin always make them look like young toads instead of frogs.

A few of our innumerable critters

I often despise Texas for its backwoods politics, its heat and humidity, its terrible environmental record, its whore’s relationship with petroleum, and its destruction of habitat resulting in the extinction or endangerment of more plants and animals than you can shake a stick at.  But the flip side of that coin is that Texas

  • is second only to California in overall biodiversity.
  • has more bird, reptile and butterfly species than anywhere else in the U.S., and only California has more mammal and plant species.
  • hosts 99.9% of the eastern population of monarch butterflies on their autumnal and vernal migrations, and provides the nursery for spring’s first generation of these insects as they move north from Mexico and begin repopulating the area east of the Rocky Mountains.
  • ranks third in the nation for the number of species unique to the state.
  • has 126 vertebrate species found nowhere else on the planet (out of 1,245 total species).
  • has more wild cat species than anywhere else in North America.
  • has more bird species than anywhere else in North America, with more than 620 species and subspecies that overwinter, migrate, breed and nest, and/or reside in the state.
  • contains upwards of 30,000 insect species, though the total number is unknown since insects represent more than half the planet’s total biomass.
  • ranks fifth in the U.S. for the total number of amphibian species.
  • has 11 identifiably distinct ecological regions.
  • is home to more than 5,500 plant species, of which 426 occur nowhere else on the planet.
  • provides winter refuge for the world’s last remaining 100% wild migratory flock of whooping cranes, which also happens to be North America’s largest flock of this critically endangered species.
  • contains the only natural mixing ground for many eastern and western species that otherwise do not cross the Rocky Mountains.

Needless to say, one can ignore the many anthropocentric and anthropogenic shortcomings of this state when one considers the natural magic found within its borders.  So imagine what spell cloaked me as I waltzed through my photo collection and marveled at how I too often ignore the dance of many reptiles and amphibians who live so near.

Sure, I’ve posted plenty of anoles and geckos and alligators and snakes—though not as many as I’d like—but imagine my dismay at stumbling over a veritable horde of critters who make this a great place to live: the diverse group of toads and frogs and lizards filling every available ecological niche.

Consider this a sample of what lives here that I’ve never shown before.  And aren’t they a beautiful sampling of the goodies inhabiting the vast expanse of Texas…

A Rocky Mountain toad (a.k.a. western Woodhouse’s toad; Bufo woodhousii woodhousii) hiding in a shallow stream (20080727_10229)

A Rocky Mountain toad (a.k.a. western Woodhouse’s toad; Bufo woodhousii woodhousii) waiting patiently in a shallow stream.  Waiting for what?  For me to leave, of course!  It had been resting patiently on a rock until I meandered up and intruded upon its cloudy day.  Only then did it take a wee dip in the water so it could watch me.

A juvenile five-lined skink (a.k.a. blue-tailed skink or red-headed skink; Eumeces fasciatus) resting on landscape timbers (20080809_10588)

A juvenile five-lined skink (a.k.a. blue-tailed skink or red-headed skink; Eumeces fasciatus) emerged from its verdant cover so it could grab what little light a cloudy sky offered.  Resting atop old railroad ties that serve as landscape timbers, this young lizard never flinched and never reacted to my presence.

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) hiding in the grass (20080921_12719)

No larger than my thumbnail, this northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) caught my attention not because it moved as I walked by, but rather because it seemed lacking in the green so virulent around its position.  I had to stop and look at what might be there.  Thankfully I did.  Thought I admit it vanished into the ground cover as soon as I snapped the first image.

A southern leopard frog (Rana sphenocephala) sitting beneath some bushes (2009_04_16_015463)

I hate using flash for any picture.  Nevertheless, I had to so I could capture the visage of this southern leopard frog (Rana sphenocephala) who hid in the dark recesses of brush along a creek’s edge.  Only by stumbling down the embankment could I even see it, and only by the light of the camera’s flash could it be photographed.  And once the flash went off, the frog disappeared further into thicket I couldn’t enter.

A Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) resting in the sun (2009_05_22_020678)

Beneath coniferous cover and beside some kind of storage tank I couldn’t recognize, this Texas spiny lizard (Sceloporus olivaceus) scrambled into daylight just long enough to look at me, to evaluate my threat, to consider my disposition.  Once it felt certain I wasn’t hunting, it scampered along in pursuit of one of its brethren.

A ground skink (a.k.a. little brown skink; Scincella lateralis) huddled at the base of a tree (2009_07_06_026106)

Growing back its tail that no doubt served as a diversion so the lizard could escape from a predator, this ground skink (a.k.a. little brown skink; Scincella lateralis) huddled near the base of a tree one evening and was all but invisible in the waning light.  Passersby thought me insane as I stood in near darkness snapping photos of what seemed like nothing more interesting than tree roots.

A tiny baby toad perched on the edge of a sidewalk (2009_07_25_027794)

A little toad (unidentified) hopped upon the sidewalk as I walked by.  For scale, the distance from the toad’s position to the brown gravel below is about one inch/two centimeters.  Needless to say I oohed and aahed as I knelt nearby and looked at this minuscule life who seemed small enough to blow away in the next gentle breeze.

A northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) resting in soft morning sunlight (2009_09_26_029186)

Another northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans) froze atop a dead leaf so I wouldn’t see it.  Too late.  Thankfully this one played stoic while I stumbled about in the early morning light trying to find the best view.  Sunlight dappling through the dew-covered grass made for a perfect shot.