Pine Barrens Treefrog - Hyla andersonii
By Hilda Flamholtz, SC Master Naturalist
Photo by Nathan Shepard
The pine barrens treefrog (Hyla andersonii) is a medium-sized treefrog (nearly 2 inches) that lives in and around wetlands in the sandhills of South Carolina. Considered by some to be the most beautiful frog found in the United States, it is green from above, white from below, and has a lavender/brown stripe running along the sides and across the eyes like a mask. The stripe is bordered by white on both sides. It has some orange concealed on the insides of its legs and sticky pads at the end of each toe pad making it easy to grip bark and leaves. Males are a bit smaller than females and have a bit of loose skin under their chins.
They prefer acidic wetlands and are found in the shrubbery around seepage bogs on the downslopes of the sandhills. Other frog species cannot tolerate the acidity levels that the pine barrens treefrog prefers, so they do not have a lot of competition. Their coloration makes them virtually invisible when they are sitting in their native habitat. They don’t have a lot of predators, so they are not extremely quick.
Pine barrens treefrogs are nocturnal and are usually heard or seen during breeding season which runs from April through September in South Carolina. Males may fight over females during breeding season. Females lay eggs singly or in clusters. More than 200 may be oviposited at a time and attached to sphagnum or allowed to sink to the bottom of the seep. After the eggs hatch, the tadpole stage lasts for 7-11 weeks. During this stage, the frogs eat algae and vegetation found in the water. As adults, they eat insects like flies, beetles, moths and butterflies, as well as slugs and snails.
During drier weather, the frogs hide in damp areas in dense shrubbery and go into a type of torpor to conserve energy. The call of the frog is a quonk-quonk-quonk repeated 10-20 times at infrequent intervals. The males puff out their vocal sac to make the call and attract a mate. The call is similar to the green treefrog, but the pitch is higher and the sound does not carry as far.
These frogs are currently found only in the pine barrens of New Jersey, the sandhills of the Carolinas and an area in Southeast Alabama/Florida Panhandle. Their previous range is not known, but some believe the current distribution implies a more widespread territory in the past. The pine barrens treefrog has suffered from loss of habitat due to development and fire suppression. In addition, use of herbicides in power line cuts is thought to have negative effects. Male pine barrens treefrogs are known to disperse as much as 100 meters from water after the breeding season, so it is important to ensure there is a sizable buffer around ideal habitat.
In South Carolina, the frogs are found in the Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge and Sandhills State Forest. In these protected areas, controlled burns are used to keep an open character to the seepage bogs that these frogs need. Also, the SC Department of Natural Resources Heritage Trust protected a gas line right-of-way where the frogs were found in Kershaw County.
Hopefully, measures like these will continue to occur in the future so that the pine barrens treefrog remains an important part of the sandhills eco-system in South Carolina.
Peterson Field Guides Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern/Central North America, by Roger Conant/Joseph T. Collins
The Calls of Frogs and Toads, by Lang Elliott
Savannah River Ecology Lab: Frogs and Toads of South Carolina and Georgia - http://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/index.htm
Frogs and Toads of North Carolina - http://www.herpsofnc.org/herps_of_NC/anurans/anurans.html#
Pine Barrens Treefrog report by SC Department of Natural Resources (Stephen H. Bennett and Kurt A. Buhlmann) - http://www.dnr.sc.gov/cwcs/pdf/PineBarrensTreefrog.pdf
Animal Diversity Web: University of Michigan, by Jessica Parman - http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Hyla_andersonii/
Natureserve Explorer information on Pine Barrens Treefrog: http://explorer.natureserve.org/