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Northern Cricket Frog Fact Sheet

Northern Cricket Frog
Acris crepitans

New York Status: Endangered
Federal Status: Not Listed

Description

Drawing of Northern Cricket Frog

The northern cricket frog is one of New York State's smallest vertebrates. This frog is an aquatic species, and although it belongs to the tree-frog family, Hylidae, which includes such well-known climbers as the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) and gray treefrog (Hyla versicolor), it does not climb very much. It is, however, among the most agile of leapers and can jump surprisingly long distances (5-6 feet) for its small size.

Adults average only 1 inch (2.5 cm) in length; the male is usually smaller than the female. Cricket frogs exhibit a myriad of patterns and combinations of black, yellow, orange or red on a base of brown or green. Distinguishing characteristics are small size, dorsal warts, a blunt snout, a dark triangular-shaped spot between the eyes, and a ragged, longitudinal stripe on the thigh. The webbing on the hind foot is extensive, reaching the tip of the first toe and the next to last joint of the longest toe.

This frog was named for its breeding call, which sounds very much like the chirp or trill of a cricket, "gick, gick, gick...," repeated for 20 or more beats. The sound has been likened to two pebbles being clicked together, slowly at first, then picking up in speed.

Life History

This frog, which may be reproductively active for 3-10 years, is one of the last frogs in the northern part of its range to come into full chorus in New York. Breeding occurs from June to July. A single female may lay several dozen filmy egg masses on aquatic vegetation, each containing 5-10 eggs. In about 4 days, tadpoles with black-tipped tails emerge. They develop relatively slowly, feeding mostly on algae and zooplankton, until transforming into sub-adults by mid-September, often at a length as small as 5/8 inch (16 mm). It is generally believed that the cricket frog spends the coldest winter months burrowed in muck or peat below the frost line, although there is evidence in New York that some individuals may overwinter in upland sites.

Distribution and Habitat

Map of Cricket Frog distribution

The cricket frog ranges throughout the central plains states from western Texas north to South Dakota and from the Florida panhandle north to southeastern New York, except for the coastal plain from Virginia to Florida and the northern Appalachians. In the east, populations reach their northern limit in the Hudson Highlands - Shawangunk region of New York. As late as the 1920's, it also occurred commonly on Long Island and Staten Island. Recently, a population of these frogs was discovered on the east side of the Hudson River in Dutchess County.

Within its range, the cricket frog inhabits sunny, shallow ponds with abundant vegetation in the water or on the shores. Slow moving, algae-filled water courses with sunny banks are the preferred habitat. Deep water is generally avoided. Males are typically found calling from floating mats of vegetation and organic debris.

Status

By the 1940's, most historically known populations in New York State had been extirpated. This diminutive frog is now only locally present in a few scattered populations which still occur in the Hudson Highlands and Shawangunk area. The decline of the cricket frog apparently began in the 1800's with the clearing, drainage and alteration of thousands of acres of wetland habitat. Aerial spraying of DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides in the 1950's and 1960's is thought to have contributed to the decline of most remaining populations. Other factors that may have contributed to the cricket frog's decline are contamination of ponds by road salt and the introduction of predatory fish, which feed on their eggs.

Management and Research Needs

A survey to locate habitats that still contain cricket frogs and to identify biological and/or ecological factors affecting this species was recently conducted. Several locations in Orange County had populations of cricket frogs in the late 1980's which became extirpated in the early 1990's.

A habitat model has been developed that should help researchers locate additional populations. Additional effort is needed to document reasons for the decline and to measure the extent of upland habitat required and the role of dispersal in maintaining satellite populations of this species.

Additional References

Behler, J. L. and F. W. King. 1979. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Conant, R. and J. T. Collins. 1998. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Third Edition Expanded. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston.

Harding, J. H. 1997. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 378 pp.

Kellogg, P. P. and A. Allen. Voices of the Night. Sounds of Nature Series. Houghton Mifflin Co. for Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Boston.

Wright, A. H. and A. A. Wright. 1949. Handbook of Frogs and Toads. 3rd. ed. Comstock, Ithaca, New York.

Map adapted from Conant and Collins (1998) and Harding (1997)


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