Facebook post and frog phrenology
A Facebook notification popped up on my phone screen and I tapped it absent-mindedly, mostly to make it go away. Even as the post was loading, sound erupted. Wood frogs quacked, chorus frogs crrreeked, spring peepers peeped, leopard frogs snored, toads and tree frogs trilled, green frogs plunked and finally bullfrogs hummed.
I grinned as I scrambled to turn down the volume. The animation continued without sound—a dark blue line moving to the right across a bar graph showing which Northwoods frogs sing in each month from March through August.
I created this audio and animation in the spring of 2020 while working from home. I thought it was a sad replacement for the in-person version of a frog call chorus I should have been teaching in first grade classrooms during MuseumMobile visits.
And yet, the post went viral.
From all over the country and the world, people who were spending more time at home, and outside, and with less traffic noise, heard the frogs and were eager to identify their newly noticed neighbors. They liked and shared the post, commenting about what they were hearing in their own backyard, how the audio had startled their dog and what beautiful memories the frog songs revealed.
Each spring since 2020, the start of real frogs calling inspires people to begin sharing the post again. By this point, the post has a reach of more than 9.5 million. Just a few days ago, the phenomenon began again—which is what prompted the notification and sound erupting from my phone!
The steady stream of new comments the post is receiving is a little disheartening, actually. Those people are hearing frogs already! A commenter from southern Missouri wrote that their daffodils are almost finished, lilac buds are close to bursting, and sugaring season is long over.
Meanwhile, my daffodils are under a mountain of a plow pile. Last year they didn’t even get uncovered soon enough to bloom. The yardstick I stuck in the snow near my subnivean thermometer tells me that we still have 30 inches on the ground. Snow continues to be in the forecast. Temperatures will plummet into the single digits tonight.
Is it wrong to yearn for daffodils in March?
I don’t remember those feelings as a kid. The seasons progressed happily from sledding to mud pies to dandelion soup, and I had little awareness that other places experienced seasons differently. With the advent of social media, I now see images of crocuses, salamanders, sunshine and gardening slide through my feed while I look forlornly out on snow.
We call some of the negative emotions triggered by social media the “fear of missing out (FoMO).” In 2013, British psychologists Przybylski et. al. defined FoMO as the “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.” Most people apply the feelings to social connection, but in the Northwoods, I think FoMo should also be applied to weather.
Of course, we will experience spring eventually. And the annual arrival of spring—as it creeps up from the south—brings with it many phenological observations. Phenology is the study of when specific events happen in nature from year to year in a specific place. When do daffodils bloom? That answer will be different for each latitude, each yard, and even each side of the same house. (The south-facing side warms up faster, of course!) The answer will also differ based on the weather of that particular year.
Using my Facebook feed, I can compare the arrival of spring here to the arrival of spring around the country. Websites like JourneyNorth.org let us seek out that same information in a more organized way. They curate maps that show the arrival of robins, hummingbirds, monarch butterflies, loons, and more as they migrate back for the summer.
While the frog call animation that started my reflection on phenology indicates that we could hear wood frogs as early as the end of March, I expect that spring will be late.
Luckily, the frog call chorus already arrived at a first grade classroom near you! First the kids learned to imitate several frog sounds. Then I assigned each row of students to be a particular species. Finally, I directed the students in a full season of frog songs.
“Wood frogs begin, with peepers close behind. They keep going while leopard frogs start! Then the wood frogs and peepers stop. Bullfrogs begin. Leopard frogs go quiet, and finally in August all we’re left with are the bullfrogs. Hmm…Hmm…Hmm…Until even they are silenced by fall.”
Snow comes, and we start the whole cycle over again.
Emily’s award-winning second book, Natural Connections: Dreaming of an Elfin Skimmer, is now available to purchase at www.cablemuseum.org/books and at your local independent bookstore, too. For more than 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. The Museum is closed for construction of our new exhibit: The Northwoods ROCKS! It will open on May 2, 2023. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and cablemuseum.org to see what we are up to.