THROUGH THE WOODS: How to predict the weather

ONE OF MY FAVORITE natural weather predictors is our eastern gray tree frog, Hyla versicolor. Growing up on our dairy farm required good ways of predicting weather. We had few radio or TV weather reports and those we did get were often inaccurate and the butt of many jokes. We were pretty much on our own as far as the weather was concerned, and each generation was taught the “look” of the sky, the feel of the air, animal behavior, and sometimes the sounds around us to tell us what to expect.

Gray tree frog. Photo contributed

In warm weather we always were aware of the call of the tree frogs. When it was going to rain, these frogs called loudly and incessantly. The robins often joined in and had their special song. My grandfather would say “the robins are calling for rain.” Then his arthritic knees would start hurting and clinch the forecast.

What farmers do often depends on rain or sun. Summer was haying season and hay could be ruined and become moldy if it got wet. We needed every bit of hay we could get into the barns to be used for winter feed for cows and other livestock. If you were pretty sure it was going to rain you would not mow a field or would race to get in as much of any dry hay as possible. Since the tree frogs lived in the trees and could be heard in our yard, I spent a good bit of time trying to locate them. Their bumpy skin and mottled brown, light gray to green color is perfect camouflage against tree bark, and their trilling song is hard to follow to the source.

They also have a neat trick; they slowly change their color and pattern to mimic their surroundings. I very rarely found one. My mother found the first one I remember seeing. I wondered how any creature so small (1 ½-2” long) could have such a loud voice and the stamina to keep repeating its message. These frogs can hear distant thunder before we can, and this may trigger their calls. Only males croak and trill so there are probably more frogs present than we may think.

These frogs like to be near water and wet areas. They are nocturnal and come down out of the trees at night to find mates and the larger females lay their eggs in water. Their tadpoles have a rounder body than most other frogs. The tree frogs also feed at night and, like moths, ants and other insects. During cold weather and winter, the tree frogs dig down into leaf litter or hide under bark. They can freeze and still survive and eventually thaw out in warm weather to return to normal.

I love to hear them call. When I was picking a site for my new house, I walked around the property for a while. Of all the good luck I found a little gray tree frog. It was a good sign. They bring back so many memories and I am very happy to have them singing in my yard.

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