Monday, 23 May 2011

Salamanders in the spring

This past April I headed over to a favorite local spot of mine in search of salamanders and other amphibians. I have been visiting this location for years and have seen about 25 species of herps here, so its always a pleasure to visit and see what is around.

Spring was late in arriving this year, but after carefully checking the weather for a few weeks, everything seemed to line up and I made my way out there.

On April 4th, I visited the spot with some friends from school - Patrick, Chris, Kathryn, and my girlfriend Laura. We picked a perfect night and it did not take Patrick long to find the first Jefferson's salamander.

Spotted salamanders, blue-spotted salamanders, and many redback salamanders were crawling down the hillsides, traveling non-stop to reach their breeding pools.

Surprisingly, few frogs were heard calling from the vernal ponds and sloughs. However, a single spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) was located. Here's a shot of Patrick the Red and Laura with a Jefferson salamander.

Patrick and Laura with a Jefferson Salamander

A few nights later I returned with a some other friends from the university. The night was warmer and the rain had subsided just before the five of us arrived at the spot. Driving up the dirt road, I thought I caught a glimpse of a Sandhill Crane, so I pulled over and we all had decent scope views of a pair.

Among the highlights that night were 6 species of salamanders and 2 northern ribbonsnakes.

Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum)

Northern Ribbonsnake (Thamnophis sauritus)

 One particular spot seemed perfect for Screech Owls. I briefly played the call on my phone and within seconds 2 Eastern Screech-owls were watching us from the side of the trail.

Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus)
Eastern Screech-Owl

Admiring a salamander

Megan with a Bullfrog

The following two nights were more of the same. Arrive at the site at 6 or 7 PM, hike around with hip-waders and headlamps till midnight, and finally drive back to Guelph, exhausted.

Spring peepers in amplexus

Western Chorus frogs are tiny but produce a huge chorus. Unlike their relatives the spring peepers, chorus frogs are doing poorly in Ontario, with rapid population declines in recent years. Fortunately this population is still going strong.

Western chorus frog (Pseudacris triseriata)

Jefferson Salamanders and Blue-spotted Salamanders can hybridize to produce triploid, tetraploid, and even pentaploid unisexual salamanders. These hybrids are female and rely on the sperm from males of either species to stimulate egg development, though the sperm does not contribute genetic material. Some populations are made up primarily of hybrids, making it quite difficult to locate "pure" males of either species. Here is a shot I took on April 10th of pure male Jefferson and blue-spotted salamanders. Note the larger size of the Jefferson along with longer limbs, snout, and a paler body colour with small blue flecks instead of large blue blotches.

Jefferson salamander (left) and blue-spotted salamander (right)

Within a few days of locating the first wood frogs, I returned and noticed many wood frog egg masses completely covering the surface of some vernal ponds.

Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus
Wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) egg mass

Not a bad few weeks at the ponds. Can't wait til next spring!!!!

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