Tuesday, March 19, 2013

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.