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Hollywood Frogs

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Imagine that you're on a movie set.... there's a soft rain falling, a couple embracing passionately on the porch of an antebellum mansion, the warm, heavy southern air envelops them, heat lightening flickers in the distance. The mood is nearly perfect but not quite; the director senses that something, something is missing: What is it? "FROGS" he shouts, "Frogs! We need croaking frogs! That's it!" And he sends the sound technician scurrying for frog noises.

And so once again our hero, the Pacific tree frog, also known as the Pacific chorus frog, is called into action. It's the most common frog sound heard in movies. And whether the scene takes place in Britain, New Guinea, Texas or the Serengeti, if it's shot in Hollywood it usually gets the local frog. So, even though amphibian sounds vary throughout the world, for the sake of expediency this guy is the costar of the night.

This rainy winter we are hearing plenty of loud, evening choruses throughout California. Where there's any standing water - a roadside ditch, a farm pond, or even an old outdoor hot tub, you'll find uncountable numbers of males singing, each one trying to attract a mute female. Imagine her dilemma: she chooses a mate based on his singing ability --- one voice out of hundreds. This is cutthroat -- or should I say frogthroat?) -- competition.

Even though these little guys are easy to hear, they are tough to see. They're small; only 1 1/2 inches from nose to rear. They range in color from brown to green with every shade in between and they can change those colors completely in a short time. But regardless of its color phase each frog has a brown stripe running from the tip of the nose through the eye to the shoulder. When you see this field mark you'll know it's a Pacific tree frog.

So the next time you are watching old reruns of MASH and see Major Houlihan and Frank trysting in the "Korea" night, remember that's our very own Hollywood tree frog that serenades them, the same one that's in your backyard.


This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

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