Spring is a magnificent time of the year when nature does so many wonderful things. This is when I find myself on a set routine waiting for the next major natural event to happen (and it normally happens right on schedule). My biggest and most favorite activity to participate in is the migration of the Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum).
The Spotted Salamander is in the mole salamander family and they live about 3 meters (6 feet) underground. Their major diet is worms, slugs, snails, insects, and spiders. They have been known to live up to 25 years in captivity. Rarely do we have an opportunity to see these underground dwellers except during the springtime when they migrate to vernal pools where they breed. These vernal pools are a scientific name for mud puddles that fill up from the snow melt and rain runoff. Other species using these Vernal Pools include the Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) and Fairy Shrimp.
This year the weather was pointing to start the peak of the Salamander Migration to happen during my trip to Cape Cod. Lucky the squishy little gang waited for me to return before trekking to their Vernal Pools. What triggers this migration ….. well they move according to the first warm rain after the snow has melted in the spring. They have been known to migrate over the snow to make it to these pools and they do this quickly because the vernal pools can dry up swiftly. This warm rain was “officially” yesterday evening after a few thunderstorms pushed through.
I knew these guys wouldn’t be out right at dusk, so I finished typing up my Cape Cod adventure and watched Deal or No Deal till 10pm. I had previously prepared my flood light, head lamp, rubber boots, rain jacket and digital camera for the evening so it didn’t take long to get outside!! This year I did the big migration alone where the kids were not able to get out (due to daylight savings change) and I couldn’t get a hold of the local vet guy that wanted to join me.
I finally arrived at my “favorite” spot and sure enough there were critters all over the roads. Some had been squished already but majority of them were on the “get out of my way” migration. I saw some Red-spotted Newts, Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs and the famous Spotted Salamanders. After capturing a handful of pictures from the road, I headed down to the water where the salamanders were congregating to do their “thing”.
Only a few salamanders had actually arrived in the pool already, so I started spending my time exploring other pool critters. These included the wood frogs, peepers and some insects. My favorite insect was the large sized diving beetles. Spending time exploring the pool was long enough to plop myself down and start watching the salamanders. Moments later I had everything from Wood Frogs to the Spotted’s swimming right to me.
They will get in these huge clusters and males will swim under the females to leave a spermatophore on the pools bottom. The objective is for the female to pick up these spermatophores and to use them to fertilize their eggs (which will be laid in a few days). Here is a video showing this amazing event.
I had so much fun watching the migration of these salamanders to their breeding pools and it is always great to see some up close looks of their natural behaviors. Sometimes those natural behaviors results in bad things happening and benefits other critters. While crossing the roads, many of these salamanders get run over by passing vehicles. If I visit these sites in the morning, all of squished salamanders will be cleaned up good. The reason that the dead bodies are not located is that many mammals will spend the night gorging on them. On my way home I had witnessed this Skunk who was feeding on many squished salamanders along the road! I guess having them eating dead ones are much better than eatting live ones!
On a similar note, a wonderful photographer and nature writer from Jamestown Audubon (which is right around the corner from here) has recently started doing her very own blog. Please take the time to visit her new blog at “A Passion for Nature”. She also posted about her visits to a vernal pool near one of her co-workers house.
Mon@rch! This is an incredible post with fabulous pictures. Thank you so much.
What is the salamander in the first picture walking on? Is that lichen? Nice colors.
28 March 2007 at 12:00 am
When you said that you participated in the salamander migration, I had this snappy comment all ready to go, but I ended up enthralled.
It figures…male salamanders are just like men. They have all the fun and the ladies are left to handle the consequences.
Very cool post. And your voice is wonderful.
28 March 2007 at 12:06 am
Very educational… I live in Alabama (Do you know whether we have similar migrations such as this going on here ?).
Your photography is also excellent.
28 March 2007 at 5:46 am
You hypnotize me with your posts. My goodness, I learn so much from you. That video is amazing. I’ll come back and read this post again. Thanks!
28 March 2007 at 9:10 am
Wonderful — amazing post! I will pass this on to the Conservation Trust I belong to. Thanks so much for your post!
28 March 2007 at 9:29 am
Thank you for putting together your fabulous posts and teaching us such cool stuff. I want to know what you know! Susan’s right- your voice is wonderful and it’s perfect for narrating.
28 March 2007 at 9:37 am
Awesome information, Mon@rch! I went outside last night with Ruby (just in case there is an owl in the woods) and took pictures of the moon. It was chilly but I was rewarded by hearing frogs down by the creek. You are an inspiration to me to go down to the creek and move some rocks and see what I can see . . . with the kids!
28 March 2007 at 9:51 am
Wonderful, educational post. I never knew most of what you have written about. We have a vernal pool (formed only from rain on the coast of California) here on an area slated for development – unfortunately this year it did not rain enough to fill the pool. Hopefully the presence of a vernal pool will halt the development. I was aware of special plants in a vernal pool – but knew nothing of the fauna. If it rains enough next year, I’ll try and do fauna tracking.
28 March 2007 at 11:38 am
Thanks for writing this up. I took my little brother out with me last night and we managed to find a few. He had a lot of questions so I sent this over to him. I hope you didn’t spend too much time with that skunk!
28 March 2007 at 12:08 pm
Great post. I thought your photos looked good on my crummy monitor at home, but here, WOW!!!
28 March 2007 at 5:00 pm
Wow, very cool Tom! And as usual, great pics!
28 March 2007 at 6:41 pm
Whoa, cool! Clearly I need to go out at night with a flashlight more often. 🙂
28 March 2007 at 7:10 pm
@ Trixie – Thanks so much and the Salamander was walking on the road (Its pavement).
@ Susan – Awww, didn’t send it my way? If you watch the video, looks like they all are having fun!
@ jim – thanks and not sure if they are in Alabama! There could be another mole salamander in your area!
@ Mary – you are getting sleepy! You will type better on the smaller keyboard!! You can wake up now! Thank and isn’t it fun learning! That is what I love about blogs is that we all teach everyone about many different things.
@ frank – thanks and glad you enjoyed it.
@ Lynne – thanks and was so much fun, wish you all could have been there. Although after listening to it, I now finally thought of a better way of narrating it.
@ Liza – Thanks and glad you made it out to see the frogs, ect.. It is fun exploring.
@ NatureShutterbug – thanks and you should do a post about the plants in the vernal pools! That’s what I don’t know about! ??
@ Jeremy – Thanks and I love the peeper photo you took! Soo perfect! Glad to help with the answers.
@ 9h225 – LOL, glad you checked it on the other computer!
@ Adam – thanks and you have some stunning photos also!
@ Rurality – we all need to get outside (but not always with the flashlight) at night more often.
28 March 2007 at 9:17 pm
I’m a little late, but had to tell you this was a fantastic post! Loved the photos and the video. Thanks so much for taking us along with you.
29 March 2007 at 9:02 pm
Wow! Cool! Love all the noise in the background. Lots of action going on here! Thanks for sharing – sorry you had to do this by yourself – wish I could have been there with you!
30 March 2007 at 6:21 am
@ Laura – glad you commented and thanks for your kind words. Wish you coud have really been there.
@ Pam – thanks and enjoyed it also! I had other video clips that I probably should have included. Sometimes it is better when your alone but wish I could have had all my blogging buddies with me.
30 March 2007 at 9:10 am
anyone know if migrations are over? we live near concord, ma. my 7 and 9 year old are intrigued by this site. me too.
15 April 2007 at 11:23 am
martha – the “major” migration night might have passed already but you should still be able to find the females laying eggs, ect… Try to go out on a warm raining night (if you hear the peepers) and look for the frogs on the roads! Wish you luck!
15 April 2007 at 1:57 pm
Once again, thank you for sharing your amazing experiences and photos.
1 April 2008 at 1:22 am
Do the salamanders make that squealing noise that can be heard in the video, or is it the frogs?
15 January 2009 at 5:35 pm
Bonnie, I wouldn’t really call that Squealing Noise . . well unless your talking about my voice but the loud vocal things you hear are from a frog called the Spring Peepers. I don’t remember hearing any Woodfrogs but that might be because the Peepers monopolize the background sounds!
15 January 2009 at 7:27 pm
Thanks Tom. Awesome as usual. The skunk looks content. Isn’t it great that they are not all that aggressive unless they are startled?
23 March 2010 at 3:41 pm
I saw the spotted salamander spring migration for the first time last night in East Concord which is in Western New York. At first I could not imagine where they all came from but after talking to my sister who has seen it at her house by Albany, I went on this site and saw what I saw last night.
It was really great!
5 April 2011 at 3:29 pm