On the evening prior to leaving Missouri, I stepped out on the back deck to enjoy the balmy weather; it had been rainy and cool much of the week but warm, humid air had moved in from the south. Taking a seat, I was suddenly startled by a loud trill coming from one of our magnolia trees; it sounded like the call of a red-bellied woodpecker but no bird occupied the knotty branches.
I soon realized that I was hearing the mating call of an eastern gray treefrog. After emerging from a winter beneath the leaf litter, these small amphibians (up to 2 inches in length) climb trees where they feast on a wide variety of insects. Found across eastern North America, from southern Canada to the Gulf Coast, their breeding season begins in April or May, depending on the latitude; highly territorial, the vocal males stake out sites near shallow pools of water. The larger females, attracted by their calls, lay eggs in these ephemeral pools and they are immediately fertilized by the male; the eggs hatch within a week and the tadpoles will morph to froglets within two months.
Ranging from gray to brown to green, eastern gray treefrogs may have a mottled or even color pattern on their dorsal surfaces; a white patch is present beneath their eyes. Since they are capable of changing the color and tone of their skin to blend with tree bark, they are often difficult to see despite their loud mating trill. Indeed, I never did find the suitor in our magnolia!