To Squeep, Or Not To Squeep?

Jack Fogle, Interpreter

You may have recently asked yourself this very question. Imagine that it’s early March, the sun is setting, and you’ve had a long day. The clear, cerulean sky has metamorphosed into foreboding, heavy cloud cover. Soon, it will rain.

That’s when you ask yourself, To squeep, or not to squeep?

Or… Maybe it’s just me. You may have never heard of the word “Squeep” before, and that would make sense, because I coined the term myself. Here’s the definition:

Squeep (v.):

  1. To search for amphibians during their migration season

Ex. “Helga went squeeping last night and found an American Toad”

The word comes from the sound that Spring Peepers make, a sound that is omnipresent in nighttime woodlands during migration season. I’ve heard people throw out terms like “herping” (a herp is any amphibian or reptile) or “phibbing” (where “phib” is short for amphibian), but I feel that these terms do not fully capture the experience of going squeeping.

You can go herping or phibbing anytime, under any conditions, but you can only go squeeping during the amphibian migration.

At this point, you may be asking, “Jack, amphibians migrate? Like birds?”

The answer is: kinda?

Amphibians, meaning frogs, toads, salamanders (and newts), start their lives as aquatic tadpoles equipped with tools adapted for swimming: gills, tail fin, etc. As they eat and grow, they start to develop tools for terrestrial life, like legs, lungs, etc. Thus, (almost) all amphibians need to lay their eggs in water, where they are externally fertilized. That means every amphibian mating season (from February to April), all those landlubbing frogs and toads and salamanders need to return to where they were born.

“Jack,” you may once again be asking, “What about the frogs and newts that still live in or around water when they’re adults?”

That is a good question. Many of those frogs and newts live in water with fish as roommates. And like any terrible roommate, these fish will eat everything that they see, regardless of whose side of the fridge it’s on or if there’s a sticky note that says “Do not eat”. Their favorite snack? Frog eggs, newt eggs, and tadpoles.

Understandably, amphibians by-and-large want to avoid laying their eggs in any body of water with fish in it, instead opting for nurseries that lack rude and hungry fish that may or may not leave dirty dishes in the sink. One of the most common options are vernal pools, which are basically ditches, divots, or dug out areas that fill up with lots of leaves and water in early spring, and dry up by the time summer rolls around. Since they dry out every year, no fish can survive, and the eggs and tadpoles are safe to live their eggy, tadpolish lives. Other options are to lay their eggs on land, fishless wetlands, or in tiny spring ephemeral headwater streams.

But first, those little frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts must travel from where they live to where they want to mate and lay their eggs. While some birds travel thousands of miles from continent to continent when they migrate, a toad’s migration might just consist of a 20 foot hop-about from a pond to a nearby vernal pool. Sometimes it’s a much longer and arduous quarter mile journey to the nearest headwater stream.

To sum things up, the amphibians go on the move.

They must be crafty, though, as traveling this far can carry risks for tasty little cold-blooded water-dependent amphibians: they may get eaten, they may dry out, they may freeze, or they may even get run over. Thus, the optimum time to see an amphibian migrating is when:

  • It is dark outside.
  • It is over 40° F.
  • There is a vernal pool or a body of water nearby, preferably both.
  • It is actively raining. The more rain the better.
  • It is between mid-February and early April.

Good opportunities only arise a handful of nights a year. Thus, on such occasions, I feel a strong urge to gear up and go out, because it just might be the last good night for the rest of the year. Dozens of salamanders, frogs and toads crawling, hopping, croaking, peeping, swimming, or even crossing the road. I had to stop my car over and over to get out and move salamanders, toads, and frogs out of the way. Word of warning to watch out for the little critters on the road if you’re driving under these conditions!

By the end of the night, I usually find myself soaked through, muddy, cold, and, having just trekked through the woods in the complete darkness, a little bit spooked. Sounds fun, right?

So, every year there comes a time that I am sitting comfortably on my couch in cozy sweatpants, eating Cheez-its, and watching jeopardy, when I arrive at the sudden realization that it’s a perfect night for squeeping. At that point I have to ask myself: To squeep, or not to squeep?

For me, the answer is always “it’s squeepin’ time.”

What I found this year:

SpeciesHow Many
Spring PeeperHeard Hundreds, saw none
Red-Backed Salamander31
American Toad14
Southern Two-Lined Salamander11
Wood Frog5
Jefferson Salamander4
Streamside Salamander3
Gray Treefrog2
Spotted Salamander1
Marbled Salamander~20 (larva only)

How can I experience this?

If this sounds like something you’d like to participate in, you’re in luck. Great Parks offers amphibian hikes every year free to the public. Just check the calendar! If you would like to go on your own, East Fork Lake State Park is your destination!