Blanchard's cricket frog is a small, nonclimbing, "warty" frog that exhibits a variety of colors. Three color patterns are always present:
- a series of light and dark bars on the upper jaw;
- a dark triangle between the eyes; and
- an irregular black or brown stripe along the inside of each thigh.
The general color is gray to tan, greenish tan, or brown. Down the back, there is an irregular stripe, which may be green, yellow, orange, or red. The belly is white. The feet are strongly webbed, but the adhesive pads on fingers and toes are poorly developed. The chin of males is spotted with gray, and the throat may be yellow.
The call of males is a metallic “gick, gick, gick,” somewhat like the sound of small pebbles being rapidly struck together. Calling begins as early as the middle of March. Although breeding activity generally lasts from late April until mid-July, the males can be heard calling day and night throughout the summer.
Similar species: In the hylid family, nine species, in three genera, are native to Missouri:
- Acris, the cricket frogs, one species: Blanchard’s cricket frog;
- Hyla, the treefrogs, three species: gray treefrog, Cope’s gray treefrog, and green treefrog; and
- Pseudacris, the chorus frogs, five species: spring peeper, upland chorus frog, Cajun chorus frog, Illinois chorus frog, and boreal chorus frog.
Adult length: usually ⅝ to 1½ inches (snout to vent).
Habitat and Conservation
Blanchard's cricket frogs prefer open habitats, especially sandy, gravelly, or muddy edges of streams, ponds, and lakes. They are rarely found far from water, but occasionally they can be found on glades during the wet spring months.
During spring and fall, this species is active only during the day, but in warmer weather, they are active both day and night. This tiny frog is known to overwinter on land by utilizing crayfish burrows, cracks in muddy banks
and among tree roots, and cracks in gravel slopes along the edges of ponds and streams.
These alert little frogs evade capture by a series of quick, erratic hops. When approached, cricket frogs will jump into the water but return quickly to shore. They are known to occasionally fake death by positioning themselves with their head down, eyes closed, and limbs tucked, and remaining motionless when threatened.
Recent surveys indicate that this species is gone or nearly gone from Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, but the cause of this decline has not been determined. Missouri populations need to be monitored.
A variety of small terrestrial insects are eaten.
Populations of this species have vanished or significantly declined from most of its northern range in the upper Midwest due to multiple factors. Although populations in Missouri tend to decline during drought years, they have rebounded when rains returned in following years. Blanchard's cricket frogs were commonly observed in several recent surveys, and this species appears to be secure in the state. We do, however, need to continue to track Blanchard’s cricket frogs in Missouri for signs of decline.
Taxonomically, Blanchard’s cricket frog has a slightly confusing history that is reflected in a flip-flopping official common name. (Herpetologists, like ornithologists, use official common names that correspond exactly with the scientific name. When the scientific name changes, so does the official common name.) In 1947, when it was first recognized as different from other cricket frogs, this animal was named Blanchard’s cricket frog, Acris blanchardi; it was considered a new species. Later, scientists decided it was only a subspecies of the northern cricket frog, Acris crepitans, and thus Blanchard’s cricket frog was relabeled Acris crepitans blanchardi. However, after that, scientists decided it was best to not consider it a separate subspecies at all, so Missouri's members of the species were designated as the northern frog, Acris crepitans, omitting the name "Blanchard’s" entirely. However, the most recent understanding has reasserted the distinction more forcefully, and our representatives are now again raised to the level of a distinct species: Acris blandchardi. Therefore, they are again called Blanchard’s cricket frog.
Don’t be surprised if you find this cricket frog listed, in older references, under any of the above names.
In Missouri, Blanchard’s cricket frogs are active from late March to early November. Breeding is from late April to mid-July. Breeding occurs in shallow water in ponds and river backwaters with an abundance of aquatic plants. Warm temperatures stimulate males to chorus; both calling and nearby noncalling males can be successful breeders. A female may lay up to 400 eggs, either singly or in small packets of up to 7, which are attached to submerged vegetation or rest on the pond bottom. Eggs hatch in a few days, and tadpoles begin metamorphosis 5–10 weeks later, which is mainly in July and August. The life span is rather short, with most individuals only surviving for no more than two years. Some individuals may live three to five years.
The distinctive calls of this species, like the sound of small pebbles being rapidly struck together, provide music day and night to Missouri’s outdoors. We hear them on float trips and calling from farm ponds and roadside ditches. We hear them in evenings as we gaze at stars, pondering the universe and our place in it.
Like other frogs, Blanchard’s cricket frogs prey on numerous insects that humans consider pests.
The naturalist Francis Harper named Blanchard’s cricket frog in 1947 to honor herpetologist Frank N. Blanchard (1888–1937). Blanchard taught zoology at the University of Michigan, formally described several new subspecies, and developed techniques for studying animals as they lived in nature. Blanchard’s cricket frog was one of several animals (species or subspecies) that were named to honor him.
Numerous predators eat the eggs, tadpoles, and adults of this species. Tadpoles have black-tipped tails that entice predators to aim for the tail tip as opposed to the tadpole’s head.
Adults of these small frogs have been observed being eaten by spotted fishing spiders (Dolomedes triton).
Predation may be a factor in the curious phenomenon of noncalling "satellite" males, which position themselves within a foot of a calling male but do not call; instead, they remain still and low to the ground. These noncalling males intercept and successfully mate with females that are attracted to the males that are calling. Apparently, the noncalling males, being less conspicuous, are less likely to be captured by bullfrogs and gartersnakes. Also, they save energy by not calling.