Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Night of the Tiger

This is about the only time of year I really look forward to rain, along with all of the other salamander enthusiasts. Just like these low-slung amphibians, we emerge on the first warm, rainy nights of early spring and patrol vernal pools, damp woodlands, and slowly cruise back roads in suitable habitat.

The first warm rainy nights around this time of year stimulate mole salamanders - genus Ambystoma - to emerge from underground haunts and march overland to favored breeding pools, just as they've done for eons. If you've never sought mole salamanders, it really is quite interesting. I was out last night, until about 1 am or so, and while I don't think the big emergence has yet come, at least where I was, there was certainly no shortage of action among the amphibians.

There is an area over in Logan County that is pocked with gorgeous glacial lakes, as well as prairie and fen remnants. I've known and been interested in this region for a long time, and have spent much time botanizing over that way. It is also Tiger Salamander country, and that was the main target of my search last night. Tigers are the largest mole salamander, and can reach over a foot in length. They are more of an open country beast than most of the others, and I think their distribution here corresponds in large part to the former prairie regions of the state. Prairie areas are where they should be sought.

I wasn't even to what I thought would be the best place to start looking for salamanders, when there it appeared on the road ahead. A mammoth Tiger Salamander, waddling across the road looking like a mini Komodo Dragon! This one was nearly a foot long, and I quickly jumped out to admire him. I took numerous other photos, but few came out and I have to apologize for that. Conditions were rather tough last night, with a good wind and steady, often driving rain, which made photography conditions less than ideal. After checking this dude out, I made sure to put him in the grass on the side of the road to which he was headed. Amphibian mortality on roads is staggering, especially for slow-movers like salamanders. It turned out this was the only Ambystoma tigrinum I saw that night - alive. I went on to find two more, but both were very fresh road kills.

Here's the range map of Tiger Salamander, courtesy of the website. This shows a classic pattern shared by a number of other animals, and many plants. Ohio represents the eastward limits of distribution for many western prairie species, and researchers searching for Tiger Salamanders and other species with prairie affinities would do well to acquaint themselves with the former prairie regions of Ohio, as that's where relict populations are still likely to lurk.

I also came across this Small-mouth Salamander, Ambystoma texanum. This is one of the more common and widespread of the Ohio mole salamanders. They have an interesting gait. When walking, it brings its rear foot forward to nearly the middle of its body, while simultaneously bring the front foot on the same side back just as far. This creates a rather comical waddling shuffle, involving much arching of the body and side to side movement.

The early spring chorusing of frogs always means winter is unleashing its grip on Ohio, and hearing scores of these Spring Peepers, Pseudacris crucifer, last night was welcome. I saw far more than I heard, though - in places, the roads were alive with them. I estimated I saw somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-700 last night. They were really on the move. All of the tiny tree frogs that I had a good look at on the roads were this species, although I also heard a number of Western Chorus Frogs, Pseudacris triseriata. The specific epithet crucifer means cross, and this frog is so named for that cross-shaped pattern on the back.

A gorgeous Northern Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens. This was the second most common frog on the roads last night, and I must have seen a hundred or more. Frogs behave quite differently at night in regards to their reactions to us, and can be approached and admired quite closely. Unfortunately, this also means they are very vulnerable to being hit by vehicles, and I saw many, many road killed leopards last night.

We're in for another spell of frigid nights, but when that breaks and we get the next warm, wet night, there should be some more salamander action.


Tom said...

That sure is one fat tiger salamander. What's with the Lithobates? It looks like some renegade zoologists are going with that name even though it somehow violates in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature? Strange stuff, I must investigate further.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, Lithobates is the new semi-accepted Genus for most all of the old "Rana" the argument being that Rana belongs with the "old world" (euro) species and our own anurans should have their own. Whatever I think you shouldn't mess with what they've been called for years, But oh well. And yeah, a very pretty Tiger there Jim. That pond I took you too in Morrow Co. produced 17 Tigers this very night, good stuff. - Ben W.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to your blog i was able to tell my son what kinda of salamander he had brought home lol thank you