“Prepared as I was to hear some thing extraordinary from these animals, I confess the first frog concert I heard in America was so much beyond anything I could conceive of the powers of these musicians, that I was truly astonished. This performance was al fresco, and took place on the night of the 18th instant, in a large swamp, where there were at least ten thousand performers.” William Priest, Philadelphia, 27 April 1794.
Jefferson often noted the first instance of hearing frogs call in the spring in his weather record, as well as in Notes of a Tour into the Southern Parts of France, &c., his Memorandum Books, and in correspondence with his daughter Maria. Herpetology was not as developed or as popular as ornithology at that time, and Jefferson either did not know or did not record which species he heard. There are three frog and one toad species that are known for their spring calling made at a volume loud enough to take note of and native to the areas in which Jefferson cited their concerts.
Wood Frog (Rana Sylvatica): One of the most abundant frogs in the US, the Wood Frog ranges from Northern Georgia through the Eastern and Midwestern US to Canada and Alaska. Prefers wooded areas, but can be found in the tundra and marshes. Breeds in vernal pools and other fish-free standing water. Sound has been compared to plucking a comb or to a group of ducks. One of the earliest to emerge after winter. There are no studies of historical distribution. Most often noted in contemporary natural history accounts.
Spring Peeper (Pseudacris Crucifer): Inhabits most of the US east of the Mississippi as well as western Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, and Indiana. Prefers wooded areas with shallow ponds but will inhabit streams and marshy areas. Historical range most likely reflects the extent of the eastern forests. Can be active on rainy nights when the temperature rises above 10° C. Its call is a high decibel shrill peeping, done by trios of males in succession. Their calls are often misattributed to wood and chorus frogs in historical accounts as they are very small and difficult to observe.
Striped Chorus Frogs (Pseudacris triseriata complex [including feriarum, kalmi, triseriata, and macular]): Chorus Frogs prefer woodlands but breed in partially frozen ponds. The extent of their historical range is unknown but evidence indicates that it has declined dramatically. Chorus frogs are currently not found around Philadelphia. Call described as shrill, sawing, grating.
American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus americanus): Breeds March–April, call is a musical trill. Requires shallow pools for breeding, otherwise prefers woodlands. Primarily nocturnal. Current range similar to historical range but with holes created by human interference separating populations.
William Bartram, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws; Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions; Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians (Dublin, 1793).
DeWitt Clinton, Letters on the Natural History and Internal Resources of the State of New-York (New York, 1822).
“Anura,” in Michael Lannoo, ed., Amphibian Declines, The Conservation Status of United States Species (Berkeley, Calif., 2005), 381–600.
William Priest, Travels in the United States of America; Commencing in the Year 1793 and Ending in 1797 (London, 1802).
Jefferson to Mary Jefferson, 9 March 1791.
Anna Allen Wright and Albert Hazen Wright, Handbook of Frogs and Toads: The Frogs and Toads of the United States and Canada (Ithaca, N.Y., 1933).
|Date||Location||Time||Temp. (F)||Barometric Pressure||Weather Conditions||Animals||Wind Direction|
|Annapolis, Maryland||4:00:00 PM||51.00||Fair||Frogs||View Data|
|Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||PM||62.00||Fair||Frogs||View Data|
|Philadelphia, Pennsylvania||PM||60.00||Cloudy||Frogs||View Data|
|Monticello, Albemarle County, Virginia||4:00:00 PM||64.00||29.14||Fair||Frogs||View Data|
|Monticello, Albemarle County, Virginia||4:00:00 PM||61.00||28.82||Fair||Frogs||View Data|
|Washington, D.C.||3:00:00 PM||63.00||Frogs||View Data|
|Washington, D.C.||AM||51.00||Fair||Frogs||S||View Data|
|Washington, D.C.||3:00:00 PM||52.00||Fair||Frogs||W||View Data|
|Washington, D.C.||3:00:00 PM||48.00||Fair||Frogs||NE||View Data|
|Monticello, Albemarle County, Virginia||3:00:00 PM||55.00||Fair||Frogs||NW||View Data|
Discover at what point in the season Jefferson observed frogs for the first time during the year.