Oh dayyyyyyyum. The Equinox is over, the days are getting lighter and brighter, and EVery creeping thing is getting ALL fruitful and multiplying. I am so excited about what’s been happening and I can’t wait for what’s next… but it is hard to imagine anything will top what I saw on Sunday. Under one log. Next to a pond*. Thirteen Spotted Salamanders! There were many more under other logs. It was a nice day, about three days after what may have been our first warm rainy night of the year- Big Night, when some salamander species walk from their wintry homes to a pool (or pond) to make the babies. Read more about that here. Along with Wood Frogs, Spotted Salamanders are probably the most famous creature to do this… but I had never ever seen one before!!!!
*It’s not a pool, because pools are merely temporary and THIS has water in it year-round.
So big! So smiley. So brightly spotted! It was an amazing trip, the kind where 8 year olds and people twice your age are all instantly best friends. We brought spray bottles to keep their breathing skin nice and wet and we washed our hands before going down in an effort to reduce possibly exposing these angels to dangerous chemicals or diseases.
Three spotted salamanders on one hand! (My hand actually). As they started to warm up, after this rude removal from their cool loggy hideout, these Salamanders were ready to get moving. They can crawl fast, and holding three quickly became too much work to do with a phone in one hand- don’t worry, no salamanders were dropped. We picked up all of them, then returned the log to its original position before putting them beside it to avoid squishing anybody. Elmore, the herpetologist who led us on our trip, could sex the Spotted Salamanders. I wanted to learn, but my hands and eyes were very occupied, so I did not (yet). Elmore checked most of them and said they were all males. Hm….. What were the males all doing in one place next to this excellent Spotted Salamander egg laying habitat?
A quick look into the clear water revealed no eggs, but many bright white spots vertically poking up from the leaf litter at the bottom of the pond. These are spermatophores, deposited by the male Spotted Salamanders for the females to come and select a few nights later. The female will (I am told) pop the spermatophore into her cloaca to achieve internal fertilization. Frankly I find this bizarre, and a little unromantic, but I suppose the human approach is pretty ridiculous too. Imagine describing it to a salamander and not freaking them out. Some real Don Juan male Spotted Salamanders may try and spice things up a bit, dancing with a female friend and then walking her over to his very own genetic material in the hopes that she will cloac it up.
Here is one of my buddies at the scene of the slime- the lovely breeding pond is in the background. It has no fish, which like to eat the eggs and larvae, so it is a great spot even though it does not dry up annually for extra insurance against fishes taking residence. It is also surrounded by intact woodlands, key for these guys who spend the rest of their year in the leaf litter and especially underground. That is why they named the Spotteds and their closest cousins the Mole Salamander Family. You can see the dude above is doing his best to rebury himself!
This pond was already full of Wood Frog eggs, and there was even one tiny clump of Spotted Salamander eggs, laid before the rest, we assumed. It was not easy to spot, and I couldn’t get a photo because it was way out in the water.
However, other things were around, including many species of frog, a few Red Spotted Newts, Red-Backed Salamanders, and even eggs that appeared to be from a Jefferson Salamander. They were in a stream next to the pond, and they look a lot like the Spotted egg mass. But PS, I did not pick them up nor do I necessarily endorse picking up the egg masses of sweet little amphibians, although I can’t say it is specifically harmful. I just get a little fretful about my friends.
So magical guys.
PS:I finally have an Instagram- so my nature photos are way easier to share quickly and… instantly. I am blogging a little less, and one of the less boring reasons is because I can share my photos so quickly on the GRAM. Today I added an Instagram link to this blog. I hope it isn’t too widget-y fidget-y. Maybe it will make a few more of my nature experiences a part of everycreepingthing.