Skip to main content

Salamanders sluggish this spring

A gorgeous vernal pool at Stratford Ecological Center in Delaware County, Ohio stands ready to receive its annual deposit of salamanders. But the salamanders have been slow to come. I was at this pool last night, hoping to see a barrage of amphibians trucking through the woods and into the pool's placid waters, but the invasion never materialized. As was the case the only other time I've been out salamandering this spring, the evening started off looking good: decently warm, and plenty wet. But come nightfall, temperatures rapidly plummeted and before long had dipped to the low 40's. That's a bit chilly even for hardy hypothermia-defying salamanders.

I carefully slogged around the pool's margins, and saw no spermatophores (the male salamander's sperm packets), or egg masses. There were probably were some, but nothing like there should be had the salamanders arrived in full force. I think they'll get to the vernal pools eventually, but this spring's crazy cool weather with barely a warm rainy night has delayed the migration of the salamanders. If you are not acquainted with the spring migration of mole salamanders, which is one of Nature's fantastic spectacles, CLICK HERE.

That's not to say we didn't see any. Several stunning Spotted Salamanders, Ambystoma maculatum, made an appearance. When photographers sight a salamander, they'll typically pose the animal on some bright green moss, or a downed log. There's probably no harm in that, as long as one is gentle with the animal and the handler takes care to keep his/her hands wet. But in the case of the above photo, no posing was necessary. I was surprised and elated to shine my flashlight's beam up the path, and see this male Spotted Salamander perched beautifully atop this branch. I was able to make a series of images without ever touching the animal.

We also found a few of the much duller Smallmouth Salamanders, Ambystoma texanum. This species may be the most resilient of our mole salamanders, occupying a wider range of wetland habitats than their fellow mole salamander species.

This is the Spotted Salamander that posed on the log a few photos back, now on the forest floor and navigating unerringly to the vernal pool.

And here we have what must be a gravid (pregnant) female. Look at the size of that belly! Presumably she is full of eggs, and once in the pond's waters she'll uptake the spermatophore of a male and thus fertilize them. The eggs, upon contact with water, expand greatly and become conspicuous gelatinous masses.

I am of the (hopeful) opinion that most of the mole salamanders have yet to make the march to the breeding pools, at least here in central Ohio. There does not appear to be a warm rainy night on the horizon for a week or so, but when such a night arrives I suspect many more salamanders will be out and migrating. If at all possible, I'll be out in the night, camera in hand, to document these amazing creatures.


A.L. Gibson said…
Great photos, Jim! It's interesting to notice your spotted salamanders seem to be more or less purely of their own species. Almost all the spotteds I come across down here in SE Ohio have some Jefferson DNA in them with varying amounts of blue flecking on the ventral sides and arms/legs. Hope the weather cooperates soon! I'm still holding out hope to join you for some Tiger hunting!
Jack and Brenda said…
Hopefully in a week or two we'll get the correct weather for a run. I looked at last years photos and see that I took salamander photos on March 12, and mating toad photos on March 17th!
Anonymous said…
We may be losing ours, Jim here on Beaver Creek. I have read there is no limit to the water that will be withdrawn.. The Hellbender, of course and all the others that depend on the water.

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Snowy owl photography tactics - and things NOT to do

A gorgeous juvenile female snowy owl briefly catches your narrator with its piercing gaze. It's doing its Linda Blair/Exorcist trick - twisting its head 180 degrees to look straight behind. Owls have 14 neck vertebrae - double our number - which allows them such flexibility.

These visitors from the high arctic have irrupted big time into Ohio and adjacent regions, with new birds coming to light nearly every day. Probably 80 or so have thus far been reported in the state, and some of them have stuck around favored spots and become local celebrities.

I went to visit one of these birds this morning - the animal above, which was found last Friday by Doug Overacker and Julie Karlson at C.J. Brown Reservoir near Springfield. In the four days since its discovery, many people have visited as is nearly always the case when one of these white wonders appears near a large population center or is otherwise very accessible.

And as is always the case, people want to photograph the owls. And th…