Wilder Side of Oakland County
Hungry snakes, branch-hopping birds, ravenous red squirrels and bigger frogs eat them. Nature-savvy adults smile at them in gardens. Little kids are mesmerized when one of these sticky toe padded predator with beautiful eyes crawls up the exterior of a window on a late summer evening to peer inside.
The Eastern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) is a very common frog of Southeastern Michigan and is found in all 13 Oakland County Parks. Seeing them, however, is not as easy as hearing their loud trill. They are masters of camouflage with the ability to change color from bright green to shades of gray, and molted patterns of grays and greens. Their cryptic coloration gives them the ability to hide in plain sight and wait for a big bug, juicy beetle, or even a smaller frog to pass within strike-and-slurp range.
Labor Day Weekend reminds us it’s almost last call time for this arboreal frog that thrives in our midst. Keep a lookout for these frogs, and you may be rewarded with amazing views and photo opportunities. Some are clinging to sunflower stalks, others are shaded in garden shrubbery and a few are enjoying the world from their above ground vantage point of kayaks in outdoor storage or empty wren boxes. Many might stay hidden on tree trunks and branches out of human view.
Their great feeding fest will slowly wind down and then these amazing tree-climbing frogs of summer will hop off to decomposing logs and thick layers of leaf litter for a winter’s sleep. Winter brings dramatic changes in their physiology, and the behavior of this frog goes from full speed ahead during the sultry summer days to a dead stop with the first frosts of autumn. The University of Michigan’s Department of Zoology Animal Diversity website states,
“When gray treefrogs hibernate, they appear rigid, and have a high freezing tolerance due to glycerol in their blood. During hibernation, 80% of the body freezes and the eyes become opaque as breathing and heartbeat are temporarily suspended. Their high tolerance for freezing temperatures enabled the gray treefrogs to expand their territory northward and towards higher elevation.”
Jim Harding, a herpetologist at Michigan State University, reminds us, “They usually become pretty dormant by mid-October, unless there’s an extraordinary run of warm weather.” That means although last call for dinner is not far off, this summery first weekend of September is full speed ahead for this tree-climbing, sticky-toed, bug-eyed beauty from the wilder side of Oakland County.
Text and photos by Jonathan Schechter, Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Parks. Lead photo courtesy of Wendy Pellerito, office manager of Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy.