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.