Reptile and amphibian season
April 26, 2021
If you like reptiles and amphibians, this is your season. While both brown snakes and gray treefrogs can be seen and heard throughout much of the year (brown snakes can turn up on our paths at the museum in every month of the year), this is the season when they become most active. They’re searching for mating opportunities.
The small and slender brown snake, or DeKay’s brown snake (Storeria dekayi), averages about 10” but can be as much as 20” at maximum length, though I’ve never seen one that large. The shade of brown and pattern on their body varies by individual but most are an even shade of brown with a couple of rows of dark dorsolateral spots. They eat slugs, earthworms, and snails. Brown snakes give birth to live young during summer.
Gray treefrogs, or Cope’s gray treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis), are also individually colored, but can actually change color, apparently, at will. They can be nearly all white, gray, green, or brown. They spend a good part of their time in trees or shrubs, but come down to water to breed in spring and summer. They lay about 30 to 40 eggs, attached to vegetation in shallow water. One hint to their identity, all gray treefrogs, no matter what color at the time, have a whitish trapezoidal mark under each eye which extends from the eye to the top lip.
There are two gray treefrogs in our state, common gray treefrog and Cope’s gray treefrog. They’re identical in appearance but can be told from one another by their call and number of chromosomes, twice as many chromosomes in common gray treefrog. Both have a rolling trill of a call but Cope’s gray treefrog’s call is harsher and more rapid than common gray treefrog’s call (I identify them by call).
The brown snake was named for naturalist James E. DeKay (1792-1851) perhaps best known for authoring Zoology of New York in which was described and illustrated 700 of the state’s estimated 2300 animals.
The Cope’s gray treefrog, which is what we see and hear in our area, was named for paleontologist, herpetologist, and ichthyologist Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897). E. D. Cope was one of the participants in the Bone Wars or Great Dinosaur Rush of the late 19th century.