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Stop #22: Blackwater River State Forest, FL
Featured Herp: Ornate Chorus Frog (Pseudacris ornata)

ornate chorus frog
Ornate Chorus Frog (Pseudacris ornata)

Ornate Chorus Frogs
-- text by Tony Mills, former SREL Outreach Program Coordinator

I had only been working at the Savannah River Ecology Lab for a few months when a fellow technician asked if I wanted to accompany him on a nighttime field trip on the Savannah River Site. The objective was to collect as many Ornate Chorus Frogs as possible, breed them in artificial ponds, collect eggs for experiments on amphibians that breed in seasonal wetlands, and then return the adults to the wild. I had no idea how to capture these small secretive chorus frogs. The only individuals I had ever seen prior to that night were preserved bleached-out specimens in museum jars that we studied in biology class. We arrived at the recently filled wetland during a driving rainstorm in late February. In my opinion it was a cold and nasty weather, conditions not conducive to fun fieldwork—to the frogs it turned out to be heavenly.

As soon as we got out of the truck we could hear the deafening calls of male frogs attempting to attract prospective mates. Each male was trying to call louder than the male next to him. As we stepped into the bay, many of the frogs fell silent. My accomplice began to mimic the melodic chime-like call of the male frogs. Gradually the chorus started up again – slowly at first, then becoming a raucous banter after a minute or so. It took quite a while to locate the first few males, but once we became used to what to look for (biologists call this developing a search image) the colorful frogs seemed to light up like Christmas trees when the beams from our headlamps hit them. As our eyes followed the light and focused on individual males we could make out the thin membranous vocal sack used for calling. I was so impressed I began to do my own ornate chorus frog rendition. Needless to say I was glad that only the wetlands’ residents could see and hear me. Some guys call in wolves, cougars, and big-time predators—I called in Ornate Chorus Frogs. Hey, I feel good about myself…we managed to locate and collect more than 20 chorus frogs that night.

southeastern distribution

The Ornate Chorus Frog has a wonderfully melodic call that matches its pleasing pattern and color. It can often be heard calling from recently filled Carolina bays and other small wetlands in the southeastern U.S. in the late winter and early spring. Ornate Chorus Frogs are found across much of the southeastern U.S. but are rarely seen because of their secretive nature. All chorus frogs, including the Ornate Chorus Frog, feed on a variety of small insects, spiders and other invertebrates. The frogs are in turn preyed upon by snakes, birds, raccoons and other animals.

Chorus frogs lay small clumps of about 20 eggs on submerged sticks or vegetation. The inch long tadpoles are a reddish-brown color and take about 2-3 months to mature and metamorphose into froglets. Chorus frogs depend on temporary wetlands like Carolina bays, ditches and flooded fields for breeding sites. Wetland habitats are rapidly disappearing in the United States because of development, irrigation and other factors. These frogs, like many other amphibian species, also require terrestrial woodlands for the vast majority of their life cycles. Without suitable aquatic AND terrestrial habitats, chorus frogs and other amphibians will decline in numbers, possibly resulting in irreparable damage to our local ecosystem, and most certainly resulting in an impoverished natural heritage for all of us.

Additional information on ornate chorus frogs:
The Frogs and Toads of Georgia
Herps of North Carolina
Georgia Wildlife Web

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