Will the recent snows save our frogs?March follows February, and yet the weather of the two months can be quite different. February tends to be arid, and though we do get some snow each year, it is normally light and dry.
By: Larry Weber, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
March follows February, and yet the weather of the two months can be quite different. February tends to be arid, and though we do get some snow each year, it is normally light and dry. February is almost never the time of snowstorms or the snowiest month of the year. Some days can get mild, but chill is in the air for the whole month.
March, with the longer days and the equinox time, is more likely to have warmer days. It is an unusual March that we do not record fifty degrees, maybe even sixty degrees. And in March, we have had some terrific snowstorms, even blizzards, adding to our own “March madness.”
This winter has been one of temperatures considerably above normal with a snowfall far below the usual. However, recent snows in the last 10 days of February have perhaps caused this trend to change. For much of this season, we were on pace to become the least snowiest winter ever recorded in Duluth, but thanks to these snowfalls of late, it appears as though this will not happen.
Nevertheless, only until the last couple of weeks have we had a rather consistent snowpack, even if only a few inches. As often happens in March, this cover is sure to grow, and this month’s snowpack is likely to be considerable.
Like many local residents, I was quite concerned about what the impact of this winter’s lack of snow would be. We have had a reprieve from snow shoveling and the bother of driving on drifted roads.
But much of nature depends on a blanket to get through the cold season. Ruffed grouse and snowshoe hare that hide in the snow seemed to be doing fine. Field mice that tunnel under are probably okay now, after what may have been a harder time earlier in the season.
But what about those underground? Several coldblooded animals seek subterranean shelters for winter. Here, beneath the frost line of the soil, frogs, toads, salamanders and snakes will go dormant during the cold times. (Contrary to poplar belief, most of our seven frogs and one toad spend the winter underground and not under water. Wood frogs, spring peepers, chorus frogs, gray tree frogs, as well as the American toad, go below the soil, leaf and snow cover; the other three kinds of frogs, leopard frogs, green frogs and mink frogs, go deep under water.)
Was snow cover ample this year? I hope that temperatures were not cold enough to hurt them in their deep sleep. Subzero temperatures this winter were much fewer than normal. But it can happen.
The winter of 2002-2003 was also one of little snow cover but, unlike this year, much colder. The following months were the closest to “silent spring” as I have ever experienced, as many fewer frogs were calling in the wetlands. Slowly, they have returned.
More recently in 2007, we avoided another die-off as a dry winter of little snowfall changed, as we ended February and began March. During a period of about 10 days, Feb. 23 to March 2, we received nearly 40 inches of snow, including a great “old fashioned” blizzard of 20 inches, on March 1 and 2. The month warmed later and melted into numerous vernal ponds in April, all holding populations of well rested (and rescued) frogs.
Little snow cover means not only a lighter blanket for the long sleep. It also means less moisture for these spring ponds. A month ago, I noted that many ponds were dangerously low. These small bodies of water need ample snowfall to melt into good sites for frogs to lay eggs. I’m hoping the recent snows are providing for this moisture.
These little hopping critters are very important members of our local fauna and they will need wet places to reproduce. Let’s hope that the recent snow (and those to come) will provide ample ponds in April, a time that may look and feel a long time from now, but definitely being impacted by the snows that we get at this time.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.