Singing out for spring!


They’re here.

It’s finally spring, love is in the air and nature is announcing, “Let’s party.” And one of the most welcome and distinctive signs that spring has finally sprung is the raucous chorus of tiny male pinkletinks.

Yes, pinkletinks are here again, and like louder than ever, it seems. Of course, they never really left, but they have finally come out of their winter hibernation to yet again trumpet their timeless spring mating call. And the Island is abuzz with excitement.

Alex Goethals of Lambert’s Cove, a veteran pinkletink observer, first officially reported hearing them on St. Patrick’s Day. It started as only a few lonely voices in the night, but quickly grew in a few days to hundreds that could be heard from a mile away. Just down the road a day later, Kate Athearn was walking her dog at dusk when she too heard them. She ran home and yelled to her three “boys,” sons Hunter and Emmett and husband Brian, to get out of the house and follow her. As they all stood out by their pond in the dark, Kate said, “Now everybody be quiet.” That’s when they all heard them, and they celebrated the moment. It’s been a very long winter here. Which makes us all the more tickled pink (for the most part) with the long awaited surround-sound pinkletinkery of these happy harbingers of spring.

The northern spring peeper, Pseudacris crucifer, is a thumbnail-sized tree frog native to eastern North America. They are only 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches in length and are brown, tan, or olive with a cream or white belly. Although they can change colors depending on their surroundings, the females are usually lighter colored. The males are slightly smaller. They have a dark cross (or crucifix — hence the Latin name “crucifer”) on their back, which is not always discernible.

During winter these little amphibians go into a type of partly frozen hibernation under logs, behind tree bark, or in forest litter. Leave it to nature, though: their cells don’t rupture because they produce glucose (sugar) which acts as a natural anti-freeze. When these tiny peep-sicles finally do emerge, they begin their migration from the forest, in search of a fishless vernal pool or freshwater wetland area. It is here that they will mate, lay their eggs, and the larvae will develop.

The peeping can first be heard around mid-March. Each male carves out a space at the edge of his pool or wetland, and they start calling, usually in groups of three. The male with the lowest pitched call usually starts the vocal competition. When the daytime temperature reaches about 50 degrees, these little guys really kick into vocal action.

Their familiar love song (especially during those first warm rains of spring) grows to an almost deafening level. How is it that such little creatures can make such a racquet? The males have a vocal sac on their throats which they pump full of air until it looks like a full balloon. It makes the loud peeping sound when the air is discharged. Actually the easiest way to see a pinkletink is to look for the male’s shiny vocal sacs, which look like 25-cent pieces, inflating and deflating as they call.

With all of this sexy symphony going on, the age-old question is bound to come up: what is it that a female really looks for in the opposite sex? As with so many species, bigger, faster and louder wins out — especially louder, when it comes to pinkletinks.

Of particular interest to musicians, pinkletinks sing in the key of G. They jam in a slightly rising G tone ending their rendition with a slight slur.

The males continue their mating ballads from March until mid-May here on the Vineyard. Females lay up to 1,000 eggs each mating season, and the eggs hatch in 6 to 12 days. It takes about two months for those tadpoles to turn into little pinkletinks. By August, they leave the pools and return to their terrestrial habitat until the following spring.

Why the name, pinkletinks? No one really seems to know. Only on the Vineyard are they known as pinkletinks, which they’ve been called for generations. Everywhere else these little treefrogs are referred to as “peepers” or “spring peepers.” Except in New Brunswick, Canada, where they are called “tinkletoes”.

One thing that is for sure — we’re passionate about our pinkletinks. Except perhaps if they accidentally get loose in your house. Which happened to the Athearns a couple of years ago. “I captured a couple in a jar and brought them inside to show the kids,” Brian remembered. “But one escaped and it took us a couple of hours to find him. The noise kind of drove us nuts for a while, so now we just go out by the pond to listen to them — much better that way.”