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The Spring Peeper

Pseudacris crucifer crucifer (Wied-Neuwied, 1838)

Hyla crucifer [= spring peeper (see the explanation below)]: Eyes large; snout somewhat rounded; legs long and slim; large stomach covered with granules; forefoot with four fingers, of which the second (counting from the outside) is the longest; hind foot is five-toed, the second toe from the outside the longest, the inner and outer toes being shorter and of roughly the same length, the remainder are short, with gaps between them; coloration: basic color of the upper portion is yellowish-grey or brownish-grey, and the back is marked by a broad St. Andrew's cross of a darker color. Frequently this marking consists of several angled stripes whose tips, pointed forwards, create an even broader St. Andrew's cross on the back and neck; in other cases the lines are not solid and along their lengths run a couple of stripes which create pointed angles directed forward; the forward crossing frequently directs its branches toward the raised eyelids between which is located a bend the point of whose angle is directed backwards; a dark stroke that runs through the eyes continues through to the side of the stomach; throat dark grey-brown; skin of the throat beneath the edge of the lower jaw blackish brown; stomach soiled yellow; shank with obscure dark bends. Legs and shanks overflow on the underside a reddish-flesh brown.
A small, lively frog whose body from snout to rump's end measures one inch. The cry is a clear whistle that rises somewhat at its finish. During mating season, the throat took on a spherical shape.



•an MP3 sound sample of a chorus of males in the early spring
•additional images of the spring peeper



An explanation of the scientific designation of the northern spring peeper
(Pseudacris crucifer crucifer [Wied-Neuwied, 1838]).

"Pseudacris," the genus (the first part of a scientific name, or taxon, and normally formed from Greek), means "false cricket" (or locust, or grasshopper -- the Greeks didn't much distinguish these). The cry of the NOVA peeper, which is entirely the product of the hormone-driven male defending a tiny plot of muck as it seeks to attract a mate, deceptively (pseudo-) suggests that of certain types of cricket (acris); the similarity is readily apparent to anyone who has ever heard thousands of overlapping cries during the great chorusings of early spring. "Crucifer," the species (the second part of a taxon and normally formed from Latin), means "cross-bearing," after the fact that the frog's back is marked with an "X" that is more or less irregular in shape. (The repetition of "crucifer" indicates that our frog is a distinct subspecies.) So, the combination of Greek and Latin means to describe accurately, if now, for want of common study of those dead languages, obscurely, our local chorus frog. And what about "Wied-Neuwied, 1838"?

Alexander Philipp Maximilian (1782-1867) was a Prussian aristocrat, prince of Wied-Neuwied. A largely self-taught naturalist and explorer, Wied-Neuwied first undertook to describe the spring peeper scientifically in print. Because he had frequently observed the frogs, those further to the American west and north where he travelled, in bushes and small trees, the prince himself originally selected "Hyla" (which means "forest" or "woodland") as the name of the genus. When it was later noted, however, that similar frogs in Virginia and elsewhere prefer the ground, for reasons of taxonomic precision, two additional genera came to be distinguished from Hyla (treefrogs): Acris (cricket frogs) and Pseudacris (chorus frogs).

"Prince Max," as he is referred to more casually by zoologists (who are naturalists no longer), undertook two daring expeditions during his long life: in 1815-17 he travelled in Brazil, and in 1832-34 in North America (chiefly along the Ohio and Missouri Rivers). For the latter trip he commissioned the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) to accompany him and to record the appearances of exotic or noteworthy flora and fauna. Bodmer performed this task extremely well, but he also produced a number of superb, distinctly unromanticized (and therefore now greatly appreciated) images of some of the tribes that the expedition encountered. Upon returning to Europe the prince spent several years organizing and polishing his material, and between 1839 and 1841 he published a two volume study, Journey into the Interior of North America (Reise in das Innere Nord-America in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834), in which there appears the first effort to classify the place of the spring peeper in the animal kingdom. The study retains its usefulness to the present day because Wied-Neuwied provided meticulously detailed accounts, accompanied by Bodmer's lucid images, of several Indian tribes that subsequently were all but obliterated by the westward expansion.

Wied-Neuwied died in his homeland at the age of 84, an unusually advanced age for a man who took unusual risks (he apparently lost most of his teeth to scurvy toward the end of his trip to America, for example) in a time when modern medicine was in its early infancy.

 

Alexander Philipp Maximilian, prince of Wied-Neuwied
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