A cold American Toad creeps across the asphalt of a rural western Ohio road. Finally, last night I escaped to the great rainy outdoors to have a go at salamandering. We've already had some good nights - reasonably warm and rainy - and I'm sure that many of our amphibians have already made their way to the vernal pools to mate and release their spawn.
As I'm sure most of the sophisticated readers of this blog know, come the first warm wet nights of very early spring, amphibians move en masse overland to breeding pools. To me, catching these slimy creep-crawlies in the act is a pleasurable rite of spring. And we scored last night, but not in a very major way. It was wet enough, with thoroughly saturated ground and intermittent drizzle all evening. A bit on the cool side at 45 degrees, but well within the operating conditions of our salamanders and other amphibians.
But there wasn't much to see in tried and true amphibian hotspots, and the relatively few animals that I did find came out late; around 10:30 pm. By then, the bewitching hour was drawing near, as I had to get up and go to work today. But some finds were made...
Always a surefire crowd-pleaser, a Spotted Salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, hightails it across the road. This site sports wooded vernal pools on either side of the road, and fortunately for our viscous friends, vehicular traffic is light. Nonetheless, I always find plenty of roadkill on these forays, and that's sad. Bisecting high-quality salamander habitat with roads is an insidious impact that results in sometimes enormous mortality of salamanders and other amphibians. Depending on traffic volume, I suspect that over time entire salamander populations are destroyed by repeated carnage year after year.
How these things reproduce and carry on is not well understood. I've seen their egg masses, and nearly all of the eggs appear to be only partially developed. Apparently some of them must be fertile and hatch, though. Somehow the unisexual saamander manages to pick up the sperm of fertile "pure" males of one of the species that I mentioned above. I don't pretend to understand the unisexual salamander phenomenon; if you do, feel free to comment and enlighten.
Weird stuff. Well, unisexual or not, mole salamanders are things of great beauty and interest and seeing them is always a treat. Friday night is looking like conditions could be good for another run, and if it is I'll probably be bck out and looking for the mammoth Tiger Salamanders.