March 8, 2011
A rainy night in Georgia and what it means to an 8 year old and his grampa.
On Saturday evening, March 5, 2011, I took my 8 year old grandson Caleb on his very first nocturnal excursion for amphibians. It turned out to be an amazing and very memorable evening as the heavy rains that night created “The Perfect Storm” in regards to the amounts of rain, temperature and duration of the climatic event which triggered highly diverse amphibian activity.
Caleb and I left Marietta around 7 pm and headed North up I-75 to an area in Bartow County where I have surveyed reptiles and amphibians for 10 + years. We arrived at 7:40 pm and as soon as I turned off of the main highway, there was a big adult spotted salamander on the road. I immediately swerved off of the road, yanked up the emergency brake, was out the door, grabbed the salamander and was back in the car within 10 seconds. Caleb was absolutely astonished as I laid the 8 inch salamander in his lap. Thus, within seconds of actually “road running” for amphibians, we had our first catch of the night. Little did we know that the numbers of amphibians on the road that night would result in a conservative estimate of a hundred stops and observations. I explained to Caleb that “road running” is an important means for researchers to sample populations of some species and it can be extremely productive and is always tremendously exciting. He soon found this out first hand as we observed a good diversity of frogs, toads and salamanders. The rain was light at times and this resulted in seeing some of the very tiny creatures that were crossing the road as they migrated to breeding sites or just happened to be washed out of the ditch that may have been quite dry for some period of time. As I would spot a frog or salamander, I would check to insure no cars were coming and then instruct Caleb where the creature was on the road. He would get out with his big spotlight, find the little gem and return to the car with the treasure in his hand.
Caleb with spotted salamanders. (Right) a beautiful specimen of an adult spotted salamander
Before long, he had caught 5 species of frogs and 4 species of salamander. He had two incredibly exciting experiences: one when he saw a big frog making very long leaps across the road. He quickly jumped out in a downpour of rain, chased the frog, which then reversed direction and Caleb jumped but the frog stayed one jump ahead of him for quite some time. It actually only lasted seconds but to him he said it seemed like 10 minutes. He finally got his hands on the frog and quickly returned to the car. He had a beautiful big pickerel frog, one that I explained is not often found while roadrunning, thus it was a very good find. The other greatly exciting moment came when he saw a big salamander just coming out onto the road and his grampa Greg did not see it. Up until then, he cried wolf a number of times and it took some time for him to learn that when you see something on the road, you very quickly and automatically scan the surroundings. If there is a gravel dry-way, chances are real high that some gravel may be on the road. If there is a pine tree near the road…..brown flat objects are pine cones that have been run over by cars…….there are so many things that go into observation techniques and after 40 years of doing this and literally many, many thousands of miles of roadrunning, I tend to get in “roadrunning auto-mode” and many things get computed every time something I spot something on the road.. On this particular occasion, I immediately stopped as Caleb was certain that he had seen a salamander. He jumped out with his flashlight and I could hear him yell……”I told you so” as he returned to the car with a very unusual salamander. Spotted salamanders typically have spots all over their body but this one that Caleb found had only spots on its head and its entire body and tail were solid black. It truly was a magnificent find and Caleb did really well to see the salamander as only its head and front legs were out on the road and the rest of the body was still in the grass of the road margin.
(L) Pickerel Frog: This species skin secretions are toxic to some forms of wildlife.
(R) A normal patterend spotted salamander and the black form that Caleb found that only has spots on its head.
Over the 2 ½ hours of roadrunning, we also saw a few mammals, including: a cottontail as it ran across the road right in front of our vehicle, a white-tail doe standing on the side of the road and a “possum”. The possum was standing in the middle of the road and he continued to stare at us as I slowly got within about 25 feet of the very wet marsupial that appeared to look like a very wet rat on steriods. Caleb said he had never seen a live one but that recently there was a dead one on the road in front of his house. Typically, far more dead possums are seen than live ones.
Around 9:30, after Caleb had gotten out of the car well over 50 times, he said….Grampa…..I am exhausted. You are going to have to get out for the rest. The rain picked up once again and during the down pour I found 3 spring salamanders which are not frequently found on the road except during times of extremely heavy rains. Caleb was excited about yet another species and at that point I decided to call it a night. Caleb was “head bobbing” as he was falling asleep yet he wanted to call Nonna (grandma) to tell her of our incredible evening. Within minutes of talking with Nonna, Caleb was sound asleep with his spotlight in his lap. I got back on the main road and within 45 minutes we were pulling into the garage as Caleb was spending the night with Nonna and Grampa Greg.
I did pull one little prank…which a grampa just can’t resist. As I pulled into the garage and turned the engine off, I reached back and grabbed Caleb by the arm and yelled, QUICK Caleb, get your light and get out and get that huge salamander. Caleb was fumbling with one hand getting a hold of his spotlight and groping for the door handle with the other……all in a couple of seconds. I then told him, Caleb, we are home. Make sure you wash your hands real good and Nonna will get you to bed……..thus ending a very exciting evening for an 8 year old and his grampa.
The marbled salamander breeds in the fall and is not often found during winter rains. Females are gray and black and males are typically white and black. The short nose and very chunky head (R) is typical for this species.
The Spring Salamander is one of the larger species of salamanaders found in Georgia. Large adults may be 8 inches in total length. The head (R) has the light lines that run between the eye and the anterior portion of the mouth. They also exhibit very palmate features of their hind feet.
The two-lined salamander is a very slender species and in some localities are very abundant. Notice the little projection from the nose area of this two-lined salamander. These are referred to as nasal cirri and they are found on males of this species.
The following is the species list for the evening of Roadrunning.
Spotted Salamander: Ambystoma maculatum
Marbled Salamander: Ambystoma opacum
Red-backed Salamander: Plethodon serratus
Spring Salamander: Gyrinophilus porphyriticus
Spotted Dusky Salamander: Desmognathus conanti
Two-lined Salamander: Eurycea bislineata
Pickerel Frog: Rana palustris
Bull Frog: Rana catesbeiana
American Toad: Bufo americanus
Spring Peeper: Pseudacris crucifer
Upland Chorus Frog: Pseudacris ferriarum
Mountain Chorus Frog: Pseudacris brachyphona