Despite the name Pacific tree frog, this small frog rarely ventures in vegetation more than 2 feet high, and it ranges all the way from the coast to altitudes of up to 10,000 feet.
According to the online Merriam Webster dictionary, tree frogs are "any of numerous small anuran amphibians (especially family Hylidae) of usually arboreal habits that typically have adhesive disks on the toes." Ironically, to earn the name tree frog, a frog does not definitely have to live in trees. The Pacific tree frog does hop and crawl on leaves on the ground when it lives in forested areas. But it can also live in meadows near water or rocky areas. When it lives in a hot location, it becomes more nocturnal, spending the days buried in rock crevices and coming out at night.
This frog is also known as the Pacific chorister frog, an apt name. So many movies filmed in California have featured the background sound of the frog, kreck-eck, that its sound is what many of us think of when we think of frogs croaking. If you do hear the croaking out in nature, you may not necessarily be near the frogs. It is possible to hear the sound a half mile away.
The frogs are not only beautiful in sound, but also in color. Although the frog I found was dull brown, the frogs can take on almost all of the colors of an M&M bag: bright green, cream, tan, a bit reddish, brown, and yellow. The frogs have different colors depending upon habitat, but also can change their color at will, if given 10 minutes, based on temperature, light, mood, or humidity. See this great site for a range of photos of the tree frogs in different habitats.
There are fun geometric facts about these frogs. They are the smallest amphibian on the West Coast. They range from 1.9 to 5 cm or 3/4 to 2 inches. The one that I observed was around 1.5 inches.
The frogs usually have a Y shape on the top part of their head between the eyes. This shape is a useful identifying marker since using color to identify them can be confusing.
You may also find their tracks in mud or sand. The track is actually an imprint of the whole body as photographed on this animal tracks site.
The suction pads on the bottom of their feet are in a specific proportion to their body. The pads need to be sufficiently large in relation to body size so that they can hold the weight of the frog during climbing.
Having tackled the issue of tree frogs that don't live in trees and provided some other interesting facts, I realized that I was murky on the definition of amphibian. So here is a reminder. The core of the definition is an animal that can live on both land and water. Amphibians often hatch as an aquatic animal and transform into an adult with lungs.
The tree frog has a definite amphibian life story. The frogs place eggs in an amazing range of bodies of water from ponds to watery ditches (I had never thought to check a ditch for tadpoles but I will now). The frogs usually anchor the eggs to a small stick. If you need to move the eggs because you see the water around drying out, always move the anchor too.
Each egg is the size of a rice grain, but they cluster together in an egg mass of around 50 to 70 eggs. The egg mass is the size of a teaspoon.
The eggs hatch in between 3 and 7 days, depending upon water temperature and conditions.
The tadpoles have mouths at the bottom of their heads to scrape algae. The tadpole stage usually lasts around 3 months. The tadpoles have a neat trick to warm up the water around them to help speed up their growth. They turn the dark side of their backs to the sun and cluster together. Scientists have actually measured that the surrounding water becomes hotter than the rest of the pond.
The froglet stage lasts about one year. Froglets hang out around the edge of the pond, while adults venture further from water. One study found adults usually around 100 meters from a nearby water source.
You have a great chance to experience Pacific tree frogs, at least by hearing them, if you live in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Western Idaho, and Western Montana. They are fairly common throughout their range. They can cope with most habitats, except desert, and they can live in altitudes up to 10,000 feet. They even live on islands off the coast of California, and they may have arrived there clinging to floating logs! I wonder how the salt spray would have affected their skin.
Experiencing the frogs is fairly easy, but identifying them is tricky. For awhile, I was convinced that the frog I had found was a California tree frog just because it was not bright green. After some deeper research, I discovered that the Pacific tree frog can showcase many different colors. I also discovered the Y-shaped fieldmark on the back of the head. Also a website about species in Kern County, the California county where I had my frog encounter, pointed to Pacific tree frogs as likely there.
My Tehachapi, CA frog had the same markings and color as a Tehachapi frog photographed by another website. The Tehachapi mountainous habitat, full of rocks and dry grass but devoid of bright green trees, would favor a dull brown color.
However, I still have unanswered questions about the frog I found. I found the frog at night at an altitude of around 3,500 feet-- no problems with the altitude as the frog can go much higher. But I did not find the frog near a body of water (or at least a body of water of which I was aware). The frog was walking on the road near a gas station and roadside motel. A major railroad track and freeway were nearby. We were actually there watching the trains, and I romantically imagined my frog hitching a train ride and flinging himself off by my feet. Alas he did not turn into a prince, but he did cooperate for some photos. The next time I visit the Tehachapi motel, I will ask about bodies of water nearby.
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