Singing In The Rain

June 20, 2009

Singing In The Rain

There’s something about the annual Motorcycle Week festivities in Laconia and Louden that we may want to duplicate in the event of a prolonged drought. It always rains. For many, the first three weeks of June have been too damp, too cool and too gray.

Gray skies don’t always dampen enthusiasm. For gray tree frogs that breed each June, “gray” is merely a temporary state. The State’s only native species of tree frogs typically breed during June rains.

As their name suggests, gray tree frogs are “arboreal” - spending their lives in trees, not in water. They can climb vertical surfaces as smooth as glass using sticky adhesive disks on their toes. Contrary to their name, they’re not necessarily gray. Their Latin name Hyla versicolor reveals a key attribute: these frogs change color. Under warty bumps, their background skin color varies from concrete-white to beech-bark-gray to fern-green, allowing these chubby little frogs to blend-in to their surroundings.

Unlike other frogs, they’re fairly easy to catch once you develop the mental search image necessary to actually see a stationary frog. They are exquisitely camouflaged to match any background. When moved from white concrete or green grass to a lichen-encrusted granite wall, they soon turn gray with green “lichenate” coloration, an amazing trick.

Like their tropical cousins, New Hampshire’s tree frogs favor sultry summer conditions for singing. In early summer, tree frogs mate in forests located near wetlands at lower elevations. Males typically perch along low tree branches and shrubs and trill to attract females who subsequently lay eggs in the water, leaving the tadpoles behind to raise themselves.

Later in July when the weather forecasts reads "hazy, hot, and humid," the afternoon and evening trilling rain call of gray tree frogs portends the promise of thundershowers on an incoming cold front with a possibility of relief from sweltering conditions. The high-pitched trill of these tiny meteorologists is a “frog-nostication” of rain on the way.

Their finest trait is harder to describe in scientific terms. Gray tree frogs are simply “cute.” When you catch one, it is able to rotate its head on its neck to look you in the eye. Their curved jaw line makes them appear to be perpetually smiling. Gray tree frogs seem endearing, almost enchanted.

And why not smile? Their sultry summer songs and watery rites of procreation bring a touch of the tropics to northern New Hampshire forests, if only for a few brief weeks in early summer.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is director of education for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. His column appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday News. He may be reached at or through the Forest Society's Web site: