Archive for the Category ◊ Amphibians ◊

• Friday, March 29th, 2013

On March 24th, 2013 Pam led a program on dyeing eggs with natural dyes at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve. While the eggs were soaking in the dye, she taught the kids and adults about the different kinds of creatures that lay eggs.
Link to photo story from the Bucks County Herald.

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• Friday, March 11th, 2011

There is a magical event that happens in the early spring. No one knows what triggers it and no one knows exactly when it will occur. It’s a surprise. Don’t you just love surprises? It is a secret trek of the Spotted Salamanders to their breeding pools.

Vernal Pool in New Jersey

In what seems like impossibly cold weather, these amphibians have waited underground for the first warm evening spring rain. Warm being a relative term because it is still only about 45 or 50 degrees. But without fail, as the rain falls, spotted salamanders come up from their underground burrows and march sometimes by the hundreds, to vernal pools where they’ve been breeding for decades.

 

 

Vernal pools are shallow depressions in the earth where water collects in the spring but dries up by late summer or early fall. Salamanders will not breed in traditional ponds where predators such as fish loom.

Male spotted salamander. Spots are unique like finger prints.

Male salamanders migrate to their breeding pools and hang out in bachelor groups called congregations. But when the females arrive, the party really starts. 40-50 Spotted Salamanders gyrate, rub against each other and rotate their tail in hope of attracting a female’s fancy. If all this foreplay works, she’ll follow him out of the crowd as he swims away. He’ll then deposit a gelatinous sperm packet called a spermatophore. The female will trail him and pick up the spermatophore in her genital opening thus completing fertilization. Within a few days, she’ll deposit 2-3 jelly-like balls with 50-100 eggs in each. The egg sacs resemble snowballs that are attached to underwater sticks. After completing this task, both male and female adult salamanders leave the pool and return to their underground burrow until next spring.

The egg sacs remain underwater for 5-6 weeks when they hatch into tiny, gilled tadpoles. After feeding on small aquatic insects through the summer, the tadpoles metamorphose into miniature adults and leave the water by the fall.

 

 

Category: Amphibians, Seasons  | One Comment
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• Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Love is definitely in the air. Has been for some time, but in the last few days, I’m noticing a lot of telltale signs that animals are seeking animals. It started a few weeks ago with the woodfrogs mentioned in the previous post. Now, other frogs and some birds are catching the love bug.

On a recent frog slog with a friend (yes, that is what I do on Friday nights, don’t laugh), we were searching for an elusive, unconfirmed endangered species in Lower Makefield Township called the Northern Leopard Frog. They often share habitat with other amphibians such as bullfrogs, green frogs, pickerel frogs and spring peepers. Slogging through the water and mud in hip waders on a warm spring evening, the peeper singing was so loud, it literally hurt my ears. These little frogs are only the size of a man’s thumb nail, but their calls can be heard about a mile away. You’d think since they are so loud, they’d be easy to find. Not so. They are extremely hard to spot and they are often not at the water’s edge where you’d expect, but in the shrubs.
The males call a high pitched whistle to advertise they are a SPM (Single Peeper Male) ISO SPF. If another SPM comes calling, they add a trill to their whistle and a territory dispute ensues. The more dominant male wins the spot and can wait for a female to come by.

 

If a male and female do “hook up” she deposits eggs and he fertilizes them as they are extruded. The tiny eggs are laid singly and are about as big as of the head of a pin.

 

 

 

 

Some animals have already done their hooking up and are done for a while. My friends’ neighbor just brought me a baby turtle to be identified. Her son had found it walking around their back yard. Since I’m doing a turtle program in a few weeks, he was kind enough to let me hold on to it until then. This baby painted turtle is no larger than a quarter and hatched from an egg laid on land.

 

Other animals looking for love are birds. I’ve been hearing woodpeckers drum against trees for several weeks now. This is the time of year I get calls from friends about dumb woodpeckers pecking on aluminum siding or against the gutters. These amorous males aren’t looking for insects in your gutters. They peck against these things because they make a good noise. Mostly though, I’ve been hearing their drumming against hollow trees. The sound resonates and not only advertises a good territory to ward off competing males, but the girls like it too.

Over the next several weeks, you’ll notice lots of birds singing. Male birds sing to advertise themselves to the females and posture to other males. Get out with your kids and count how many different bird sounds you can hear. Once you get better at identifying a particular song, see if you can hear a competing male a few yards away. You’ll notice they actually “talk” to each other. You may begin to determine how far apart each territory is for each bird. Enjoy nature.

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• Monday, March 16th, 2009

It may not feel much like spring, and the calendar may say it is still a 5 days away, but spring has definitely sprung around here. Spring can be very subtle, and you need to be cued into the clues, but, if you look and listen carefully, you will soon discover that the seasons have changed.

On a recent trip to the bank, I noticed the branches of the silver maple lining the road had a distinct fuzzy appearance. I pulled over and discovered they were in fact blooming. Many people don’t realize trees bloom unless they are obvious like dogwoods, but maple trees are in full bloom now.

 

 

Another tip that spring is here has actually finished already. Just 5 days ago, the wood frogs were calling in the vernal pools of Five Mile Woods. With the first spring rain, the males make their way to these temporary pools and start calling. The females follow shortly after. You may have mistaken their calls for quacking ducks, but they are small woodland frogs that wake, call, mate, lay eggs and leave all within a two week period.

 

 

Thousands of jelly-like eggs are laid by the females while the male clasps her from behind and fertilizes the eggs as they come out. Also calling, and they will continue to do so for several weeks, are the spring peepers. These tiny tree frogs are no larger than a man’s thumb nail, but their loud whistling peep can be heard up to a mile away.

 

The last amphibian to wake from spring is a silent one. Along with the woodfrogs, the spotted salamander remains underground most of the winter. With the first “warm” spring rains, they migrate, sometimes in mass, to vernal pools. Males congregate first, followed by the females. Their courtship, though brief is very interesting, but hasn’t happened yet, so I’ll save it for another post.

Get outside and discover spring before it is too late.

• Friday, October 11th, 2002

“More than 100 new frog species have been discovered in the Sri Lankan rainforest.”
more…

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