As the spring daylight fades, an eerie refrain rises: the sound effects track from a ‘60s sci-fi movie, an ancient epic re-cast on an alien world. The spring peepers have defrosted to haunt the shores of ephemeral vernal pools in Staten Island and Alley Pond Park, and you are surrounded by disembodied voices.
It’s the monomyth of nature. Rising from the underworld, the frogs speak and heed the call to adventure. Their lives and loves and deaths will unfold over seasonal acts to come. You will likely never see the tiny thespians, but for now, enjoy the audible theater of their agon, each male frog a combatant. All around you, their pent-up breath rushes over vocal cords to inflate the throat sacs that almost double their body size. Their cry is as loud as those of birds, 10 to 100 times larger.
The most successful males will chirp faster, breathe more quickly in their marathon to achieve amplexus (the mating grip). In an Olympian feat of stamina, the peeps may come as quickly as 50 to 100 times a minute. This display advertises not only vocal, but physical prowess, and to the winner go the spoils of love.
For now, the calls may be arias, solo professions of desire. In a few weeks’ time, you will be treated to a deafening ensemble—a full Greek chorus the weight of pocket change.
- The city’s vernal pools house many other species. These transient features can form throughout our fair city—snowmelt in a park, large rain puddles in a playground, runoff in a vacant lot. We may not all be so fortunate as to hear the peepers peeping, but keep your eyes out for the momentary ecosystems near you and spend a moment bending down to inspect the life they foster.
- The spring peepers are not alone in their debauched bacchanalian cries. Between February 19, 2021, and February 9, 2022, New York City’s 311 system received 277 complaints of loud love. March 3, 2021: “I keep hearing a whip and him telling her, ‘Call me daddy.’” December 15, 2021: “Sex party.” January 8, 2022: “SEX PARTY.” January [date unknown], 2022: “Listen i am a christian woman, help this girl stop having loud sex before God does.”
- Sometimes we shout our love to the rooftops. Sometimes we simply need to shout. We are still emerging from a long winter, and an even longer pandemic, and it can be surprisingly difficult in this loud city to find a spot for emitting a much-needed barbaric yawp. Channel the throat sacs of the spring peepers on your commute: find a scarcely populated subway platform, and as a train screeches into the station, find release as you scream away your frustration into the noise.