It’s been a long, cold, snowy winter, but it seems to finally be leaving us. That means spotted salamanders and other amphibians will be out soon for their annual vernal aquatic nuptial extravaganza. I spent some time out last night and today. The only sign of amphibian life was a very sluggish Jefferson salamander spotted by some other hikers moving over a blanket of snow at the North Chagrin Reservation.
Right now things are still rather wintry at Windhover Pond even after a lot of thawing. So, more warmth and rain is needed to wake things up. Anticipate updates on the potential timing of salamander walks within the next few weeks.
With how severe the winter weather has been for us, there are a few reasons to think it might have been good, or at least benign, for spotted salamanders:
1) A persistent blanket of snow means insulation against severe air temperatures.
2) A persistent blanket of snow also means lots of water (see below), which could create a nice pleasant moist saunter for moving amphibians, or create new or longer lasting breeding vernal pools.
3) Amphibians are ectotherms (cold-blooded), which means the amount of energy they burn is directly proportional to the temperature of their environment. So, while we spend the winter cursing the cold and running up our energy bills, ectotherms benefit by paying lower energy costs than they would during warmer years.
Still about 6 inches of snow at the pond.
Lots of snow = lots of water. This photo is taken from outside of the fence looking in. Our drift fence is currently within the perimeter of the pond in some areas.
I’ve started to see freshly metamorphosed spotted salamanders at Windhover Pond, so all the trouble the adults went through in the spring (from the frigid temperatures to being harrassed by us on the way in) was apparently worth it.
Here’s a picture of a new metamorph. As it grows, the yellow speckles will migrate into the two rows of spots that we’re accustomed to on the adults:
This is a new look for this guy. A picture of the same individual just weeks earlier would have revealed the greener color, tail fin, and external gills of an aquatic larva:
No incoming salamanders after the few rain events over the last week, so looks like they are done breeding for the year. Only 141 animals came to the Windhover pond this year, the lightest migration yet. Also the shortest, maybe owing to the long winter?
Nevertheless, larvae are on the way. Here’s a spotted salamander egg mass. Notice that this thing is larger than a female! When an egg mass is laid, it swells up with water, mostly due to the formation of a thick protective jelly-like coating. You can just start to make out the external gills forming on the developing embryos.
In other news, snapping turtles are on the move. These are only slightly more difficult to help over the fence.
I stumbled upon a few kids’ books featuring spotted salamanders and thought the information might be useful for some of our readers. They look to be a nice mix of science education and fun/engaging stories. I’ve not read them all but it looks like they receive very positive reviews. I vaguely remember reading “The Salamander Room,” featuring what looks like a red salamander, and on a few occasions (unsuccessfully) attempted to create amphibian habitats in my bedroom.
Salamander Rain: A Lake and Pond Journal by Kristin Joy Pratt-Serafini
Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Marwil Lamstein
A Salamander’s Life by John Himmelman
The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer
We’ll have a salamander walk tonight (Monday April 14). Meet across from Bath Elementary at 8:45p. See here for additional details. The night will start off warm, but may drop down around 40 by the time we’re done. After that…1-3 inches of snow! So, we’ll try to retrieve animals from buckets before they get snowed on.
the story below from The New York Times helps put our salamander study
We ended up capturing 45 salamanders on Monday night, putting us over 100 for the year.
The animals in the video (sorry for the zoom, I underestimated the quality of the non-zoomed picture) below got to breeding shortly after I released them. All of the individuals are actually males here, but females soon joined the action and a decent swarm formed eventually. Notice the individual who stops and shuffles his hips back in forth; these behaviors are not well-studied, but he may be searching for spermatophores from other males to cover with his own. Also notice the tail-waving, this may be to disperse his scent through the water.
There should be eggs in there pretty soon!
Wrong species dude. He was really holding on- it took some effort to pry him off.