Photo Credit: 
Randy Mitchell | For The Chronicle
A gray treefrog rests on a limb. Note that this particular frog is a combination of gray, and light and olive green.
A gray treefrog rests on a limb. Note that this particular frog is a combination of gray, and light and olive green.

 

They're gray, and they're often found in trees

 

Before we get started on this week's featured creature, I need to update everyone on something I've mentioned in the past few columns — the "Monarch Butterfly Watch" at Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area. 

The free event takes place this year from Oct. 2-9. There will be morning and evening activities, which includes seeing the butterflies and watching biologists tag and release some as well.

I was contacted by Melynda Hickman, Wildlife Diversity Biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and she mentioned that interested folks must make a reservation to participate in the morning tagging and evening roost watch activities.

"We have limited seating for the roost watch activity, and we have had to restrict the number of participants inside the Center for the tagging."

For more information, and to check the status of monarch migration prior to attending (recommended), visit Friends of Hackberry Flat on Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/Friends-of-Hackberry-Flat-209302429171557. 

 

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I'm a little sad because the weather is cooling, and the insects and reptiles and amphibians will be going to go away for a while.

But I'm sure we'll have periods of warmth this fall, as we usually do, so the bugs aren't gone just yet.

And, I know, I know, most people probably enjoy it when the bugs are gone. However, I happen to like bugs, and other creepy crawlies that most people don't care for. Except mosquitos, they can disappear forever for all I care. Well, I'm sure they serve a purpose, but because I am attacked daily, I really don't care for them.

I also enjoy the sounds of nature during the warmer months.

I recall one freezing night in January many, many years ago when I was outside with my son throwing snowballs at each other before retiring for the night. We had lots of fun, and, after we were done, I took him aside and said, "Listen, son. What do you hear?"

He replied, "Nothing."

He was correct. We lived on a farm at the time, and it was absolute silence. No wind, no planes, no bugs, no nothing.

The following June, again we went outside at night, and I asked if he remembered that silent winter night, to which he replied, "Oh, yeah! That was an awesome night! We threw snowballs and had hot chocolate."

I agreed that it was lots of fun, and asked if he remembered the silence? Again, he said, "Oh, yeah."

I asked him, "What do you hear now?

This time, he replied, "Everything!"

Again, he was correct. We indeed heard "everything." Crickets, katydids, tons of other insects, birds and bullfrogs. He was shocked at the difference between summer and winter.

I think, with kids, the biggest differences between the seasons involve the temperatures, or the shorter days, and/or holidays, not the sounds around us.

Although I prefer the cold to the heat, the winter is a time of slumber for many of these creatures, while summer is when nature is hopping.

And, without question, many of the creatures we heard that summer night were gray treefrogs, the subject of this week's Randy's Natural World.

The males are the noisy ones, often calling throughout the night with their bird-like trills.

An RNW reader recently reached out to me concerning these amphibians. "So, why not feature them now," I thought.

And, to me, gray tree frogs are amazing. Not just because they can cling to just about anything, but the fact that they can change colors to match their surroundings is fascinating. They can change colors like a chameleon, albeit slower.

But be aware, these frogs have a toxic coating on their skin. Now, a person can hold one, but hands — and anywhere else where these frogs have come into contact with skin — should be washed thoroughly immediately afterwards. 

If a careless handler was to rub their eyes with that toxic substance, it can cause burning in the eyes which can last a half-hour or more.

The substance can irritate the nose, eyes, and lips, and irritate cuts and scrapes.

 

Appearance

Now, there are two species of gray treefrogs in Oklahoma — Hyla versicolor (sometimes called northern gray treefrog) and Hyla chrysoscelis (known as the Cope’s gray treefrog).

However, the two are physically identical, and the only way to tell the difference is to listen to their songs — which are different from one another — or to do genetic testing.

So, in this column, we'll just keep it simple at "gray treefrog."

Adults range in size from 1.5 to 2.5 inches in length, with females being slightly larger than males. 

Gray treefrogs are frequently patterned to resemble tree bark with lichen. Most of the frogs I see are patterned that way, however, their colors and patterns can vary greatly. Depending on temperature and other factors, they can be pale gray with no pattern to nearly white, or leaf green with no pattern.

My favorite color pattern is a mix of light green, and gray (photo).

Their dorsal skin is granulated, and, they have distinctive light spot, usually outlined by a dark gray line, beneath each eye (photos). The limbs are banded with the same gray/dark gray as the back. The groin and undersurfaces of the legs are deep yellow (photo), and the chin and belly are white. They eyes are light yellow with dense dark brown reticulations. 

 

Range

These frogs are found over all of eastern Oklahoma, from as far west as Altus up to Ponca City and everywhere east in the state. Their range over the United States runs from the Plains States and nearly everywhere east, except the southern two-thirds of Florida.

 

Habitat

The genus name for both species of gray tree frog, "Hyla," means "belonging to the woods." 

It is a largely arboreal species that occupies a variety of wooded habitats and is frequently found in forests, swamps, on agricultural lands and in backyards. And many people find them clinging to windows are other items on their porches.

 

Food

Gray treefrogs eat mostly insects, such as mites, spiders, plant lice, snails and slugs. They may also occasionally eat smaller frogs, including other tree frogs.

 

Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.