Caught in the Act

If they aren’t the cutest critters and the perfect poster-child for vernal pool protection, I just don’t know what is!

~David Markowitz describing Spotted Salamanders

A friend and fellow naturalist came by this weekend and we went out Saturday night to have a look at the small pool out in the front yard. It is a shallow water garden, probably no more than six feet in diameter. These past few nights a couple of Upland Chorus Frogs have been calling as well as the occasional Spring Peeper. But we hoped to catch a glimpse of some of the Spotted Salamanders that have been laying eggs the past few weeks. As we approached the edge of the pool, a Green Frog jumped into the water, and the finger-nail-running-over-the-teeth-of-a-comb trill of a chorus frog became silent. Our flashlight beam caught some movement – a Spotted Salamander! Then another, and another, their sleek, dark bodies covered in bright yellow and orange spots. Then we noticed one clinging to a small twig beneath the surface and we crowded in for a closer look.

Spotted Salamander laying eggs 1

Spotted Salamander laying eggs (click photos to enlarge)

A female laying eggs! I had placed this particular small tree branch in the pool a couple of weeks ago as a potential egg-laying site for the salamanders that had already gathered after one of our earlier rainy nights. A day or two after picking up a spermatophore deposited by a male salamander, female Spotted Salamanders will begin to lay egg masses. She usually waits until after dark and then searches for a suitable site – small underwater twigs seem to be a preferred location. The female slowly crawls along the stick and then grasps it with her hind legs. She then presses her body against the twig as she extrudes the eggs, s few at a time, all in a gelatinous mass. Our female seemed to stop as we shined the light into her world, perhaps disturbed by this unusually bright bit of moonlight. After photographing and watching her for a few minutes, she crawled off into the leaf debris in the bottom of the pool.

Adult Spotted Salamander in hand

Adult Spotted Salamander in hand

Another female was just out of the water on a mat of vegetation. We briefly held her for a picture, then released her back onto the safety of the water. I imagine these adult salamanders will be in the pool another week or two before heading back to their terrestrial habitat in the rich woods around the house, until next winter, when the rains of a January to March evening beckon them back to renew their mission to add more of their kind to our woods.

Spotted Salamander egg masses

Spotted Salamander egg masses on the same twig from Saturday night

I went out this morning to check on the eggs and it looks as though our disturbance Saturday night was only a minor one, as there were many more small egg masses on that same twig. Now, to wait for the warm temperatures to hasten the development and hatching of the eggs into hungry salamander larvae. These fish-less pools are truly amazing habitats and ones worth protecting or creating.

 

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