Thursday, March 10, 2016

Salamander (mega) migration!

In this part of the world, amphibian enthusiasts pay close attention to the weather at this time of year. Towards the end of the day, yesterday, it was apparent that Wednesday night would produce the warm rainy conditions that are conducive to salamander migration.

The annual run of the salamanders trumps all, so I and a photographer friend met up at 8 pm and headed to one of central Ohio's best vernal pools. Smart move - it was a river of salamanders.

Upon arrival to our destination, there was a light drizzle and the temperature was 60 F. Perfect, and it didn't take much exploring to see that moisture-loving critters were moving en masse. This is a crayfish, rearing up among the leaf litter and threatening me with its pincers. I often see crayfish moving overland in such conditions.

Amphibians were the primary quarry and we weren't disappointed. Upon exiting the car, chorusing spring peepers could be heard, along with lesser numbers of western chorus frogs. These tiny frogs with their toe-capped suction cups were all over the place. This is a chorus frog, blending well with the bark of an oak.

The spring peepers blew any and all other noise-makers out of the water. As we neared the vernal pool, the noise grew in intensity. Standing along the verge of the pond was nearly painful, so loud and shrill is the collective mass of singing frogs. A barred owl had been calling fairly close by - and you know how loud those can be. The peepers completely drowned out the owl. I never fail to be amazed by the sheer volume of these Lilliputian frogs.

The spotted salamanders stole the show, though. We hit the BIG NIGHT, that's for sure. They were everywhere. Moving (carefully!) towards the vernal pool, salamanders would appear out of nowhere, moving through the leaf litter in an age-old spring ritual. A relentless drive propels the amphibians towards their breeding ponds, where male and female will meet and lay eggs. The adults won't remain long, but the larval salamanders will spend weeks growing and maturing in the pools.

A gravid female moves across a turkey-tail fungus-encrusted log. Many pregnant females were moving to the pools, which were filled with writhing and dancing male salamanders. The boys had already deposited scores of spermatophores in the water, ready to fertilize the females' eggs as they arrive.

Peering into the water was incredible. At times, 30 or 40 salamanders were evident in a tiny area, and everywhere one looked there were more. Extrapolating to the size of the vernal breeding pools, I figured there might be five or ten thousand of the animals, but who knows. Anyway, you shake it, last night was a major salamander-fest, and I'm glad that I was there to witness the spectacle.


Jack and Brenda said...

Good photos! The tree line behind us is sure noisy the last couple nights.

Jennifer said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome!!! It's such an exciting time of year. The woods around our house are alive with frog song and I'm sure many salamanders moved here too. Exciting! :)