Bullfrog Serenade

There is nothing like a large chorus of Bullfrogs—their deeply resonant and pumping calls soothe the mind into a dreamlike state: Rum, Rum, Jug-o-Rum, Jug-o-Rum. What’s more, neighboring males often alternate their calls to produce an entrancing pulsating rhythm quite unlike that produced by any other species of frog.

On the night of June 3, 2010, I visited a small pond in the Finger Lakes Natural Forest near Ithaca, New York. There I found a group of actively chorusing Bullfrogs and Green Frogs scattered among emergent vegetation in the muddy shallows at one end of the pond (the Green Frogs are the ones going gunk, gunk, gunk). The male Bullfrogs grew silent as I waded into the water and shined my lights here and there to find them. But after a half-hour or so, they grew used to my antics and eventually allowed me to get some extraordinary views of their music-making:

placeholder image for the Bullfrog Serenade video clip

Not only are typical breeding calls featured in the video, but two other calls are also represented. Listen for aggressive “spits” or “phoots,” given by a territorial male when another male approaches too close. Sometimes after spitting, the resident male will swim toward the intruder and give subdued “rum” calls, often in pairs (this happens once in the video, when a male swims off into the darkness). One behavior that I observed but did not manage to capture was a “wrestling match” between two males. After several ceremonious spits, the rivals rose up on their hind legs and locked on to one another with their forelegs, like two sumo wrestlers. For nearly thirty seconds, they pushed chest against chest until the they finally toppled over, the victor on top, and the loser struggling to get free before finally swimming away.

The Bullfrog is named for its bull-like bellowing call. It is one of North America’s most well-known frogs. Widely distributed in East, this aggressive species has been introduced into many areas of the West, where it is disliked because it eats and quickly displaces native species (a Bullfrog will eat most any living thing that is smaller than itself, including small birds!). In some areas of the East, populations of Bullfrogs have decreased due to over-harvesting for frog legs, pollution, introduced diseases, and habitat destruction.

In spite of its notorious reputation in the West, the Bullfrog remains one of my all-time favorite frogs.

Bullfrog range map


  1. Excellent! I’ve never seen a Bullfrog call before but I hear them a lot in summer. And some of them that I’ve seen are monstrous!

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