Posted on April 9th, 2010 Add a comment >>
It reminds me of the Munchkins scene from the Wizard of Oz where they all start coming out of their hiding places after Dorothy’s house lands in their village, and Glinda the Good Witch tells the Munchkins it’s safe to come out now.
Spotted Salamanders-Ambystoma maculatum, are in the beginning stages of their breeding cycle and the warm spell of last week, along with a gentle nights rain is allowing for the nightly migration of salamanders from their protected winter homes to vernal pools of standing water.
After spending many winter months curled up in some crevice between a rock and tree root or old mammal tunnel, these salamanders are awakened by the need to mate. They “smell” their way to a nearby fish-less, spring rain-filled puddle or pool on the forest floor.
I happen to like the vernal pools around the Black Pond Trailhead parking lot on Keese Mill Rd(in Paul Smiths). After a good soaking rain in mid April it’s worth taking a walk to a woodland pool or small pond and look for these critters slowly migrating their way to water.
In the pools males will produce small white packets of sperm(spermatophore) that they attach to a small leaf or stick. The females will follow a few days later and enter the pool looking for spermatophores. Lying on top of a spermatophore, the female will gather it up into her reproductive organ and it will fertilize her eggs internally.
Soon after this she will lay a clump of gelatinous eggs in a pond and over time this egg mass absorbs water and swells to softball size. You may see these in shallow areas along a ponds edge. It often gets covered with algae also.
The human attraction to this yearly phenomena is to monitor and safely guide the salamanders that end up having to cross some of the roads leading from woodlands to the vernal pool. Many Paul Smiths College students participate in this endeavor along Keese Mill Rd. and safely carry spotted salamanders to the other side of the road.
Along with the spotted salamanders you can often find Wood Frogs-Rana sylvatica crossing these deadly roads. They’re on the same pathway that the salamanders are on….getting to the water. In a large enough vernal pool you can find both salamanders and wood frogs actively mating on warm April nights.
Following close on their tails are Spring Peepers-Pseudacris crucifer. We’re all familiar with the often deafening chorus of peepers on a spring night around wetlands. This thumb-sized member of the chorus frog family can be pretty hard to locate among the grasses around a pond. They often tuck themselves under the overlapping grasses and disappear from view.
Although April showers do bring May flowers, it’s well worth the effort to explore the early, wet April nights in your favorite Adirondack woodland.
Photo credit: Spotted Salamander -Wikipedia