Calling Amphibians of Massachusetts
Massachusetts is home to ten calling amphibians representing four families: true frogs (5 species), treefrogs (2 species), true toads (2 species) and one spadefoot toad.
An excellent resource for learning about amphibian calls is “The Calls of Frogs and Toads” available from NatureSound Studio.
Spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
The calls of spring peepers –known as pinkletinks on Martha’s Vineyard – are familiar to most residents of Massachusetts. Yet many people who know it by its high, clear, upward slurring whistle, have never seen this tiny ¾ to 1¼ inch treefrog. Listen for peepers calling from vernal pools, wet meadows and the margins of lakes and ponds throughout early and mid-spring.
Gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor)
Gray treefrogs are rarely found out of the treetops except during breeding season. They often create large choruses in shrub swamps, flooded hayfields, wet meadows and shallow marshes. Their loud, loose trills are heard in mid-spring. Large choruses can make it difficult to hear other calling amphibians using the same areas. Outside of the breeding season gray treefrogs can occasionally be heard vocalizing from treetops before or after thunderstorms.
True frogs (Ranidae)
Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)
This small frog with the distinctive dark mask is typically the first calling amphibian to begin chorusing each spring. Listen for its quacking-clucking calls emanating from woodland vernal pools on the first warm afternoons and evenings of spring.
Pickerel frog (Lithobates palustris)
Pickerel frogs breed in ponds and slow-moving portions of rivers. That is where you can hear the male’s snoring, belly-growl calls. Because they do not form dense choruses and will at times call from under water, it can sometimes be hard to pick out the calls of pickerels frogs from among choruses of other amphibians. Listen for pickerel frogs in early to mid-spring.
Leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens)
Less common than the pickerel frog, which it resembles in both appearance and somewhat in call, the leopard frog typically breeds in shallow marshes, weedy ponds and open vernal pools. Listen for their staccato version of the pickerel frog growl, mixed with chuckling grunts in early to mid-spring.
Green frog (Lithobates clamitans melanotus)
These very common frogs are found throughout Massachusetts where they breed in ponds, marshes, and river backwaters and side-channels. Their calls are short, explosive banjo-plucks, sometimes linked together like a series of echoes. Listen for them in mid to late spring.
American Bullfrog (Lithobates catesbieanus)
Our largest frog, the bullfrog has a voice to match both its size and its name. Heard individually it is easy to detect the familiar “chug-o-rum” call of the male bullfrog. A dense chorus of bullfrogs can sound like an agitated herd of cattle. Bullfrogs chorus in late-spring and early summer from marshes, ponds, river backwaters and the weedy margins of lakes.
True toads (Bufonidae)
American toad (Anaxyrus americanus)
The American toad is the common hop-toad of back yards and gardens. It’s warty, ungraceful appearance belies a quite beautiful voice that is typically heard in early spring. The long, melodious trill typically lasts 8-15 seconds but can be as much as 30 seconds long. The calls of American toads can be heard emanating from pond edges, beaver impoundments, and open vernal pools.
Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri)
Fowler’s toads resemble American toads in appearance but can be easily distinguished from them by voice. Fowler’s toad calls are sharp, high nasal trills issued in short blasts lasting 1-4 seconds. These toads are relatively common on the coast and are less common inland. They breed in freshwater or brackish ponds, marshes and vernal pools.
Spadefoot toads (Pelobatidae)
E. Spadefoot toad
Eastern spadefoot (Scaphiopus h. holbrookii)
The Eastern spadefoot is our rarest anuran (tailless amphibian) and is listed as “threatened” in Massachusetts. It is most common on Cape Cod and in the Connecticut River valley, but also occurs in a few other locations in Eastern Massachusetts. The spadefoot’s call is an explosive, plaintive grunt that, from a distance, can sound like a flock of bleating sheep. Spadefoots only call for a few days at a time usually after very heavy or prolong rain events. In the absence of these rain events spadefoots in a given area may go years without breeding. When they do breed it may be as early as April or as late as September.