Thursday, January 26, 2012
A “perfect Storm” if you happen to be a spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum.
Today, temperatures in Marietta, Georgia reached the low 70’s, extremely warm for late January weather. The combination of warm temperatures and moist air moving up from the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a nice amount of rain through the day and well into the evening hours. At 7:30 pm, I decided to drive up to Bartow County, to an area where I have surveyed reptiles and amphibians for many years. By 8:20 pm, I was on my favorite road and within 10 minutes, I found a spotted salamander on the edge of the road. The salamander was a large male and because I had a request for a few tissue samples from spotted salamanders, I decided to collect this individual this evening. I placed the salamander in a zip lock bag and continued driving. Over the course of the next 2 hours, I found 8 spotted salamanders, 2 two-lined salamanders and observed over 50 American Toads. In addition, I observed a few “nom-amphibians”…….a red bat flying over the road, 3 individual white-tailed deer (does) and one white-footed deermouse, that crossed the road directly in front of my vehicle. At 4 different locations, I heard very small frog choruses. All choruses were of Spring peepers and upland chorus frogs.…both of which are little brown frog species that seem immune to being immersed in very cold water. They are basically winter and early spring breeders in Central Georgia. At 10:00 pm, I headed home and upon arrival, the rain continued so I went into my backyard, where I have a pond. Upon looking down into the clear water, I was absolutely amazed by what I observed in the beam of my spot light. The leaf litter on the bottom of the pond was a writhing mass of salamanders. The males had already deposited their spermataphores and in a few areas the little sperm packets were so thick, there were 20 or 30 in view just in the beam of my light. Salamanders were crawling all over each other and I just sat there on the edge of the pond, mesmerized by the incredible event that was unfolding before my eyes. The male salamanders appeared to be in a state of frenzy due to the large numbers of females that had also entered the pond. Of course, this is a vital importance for a male if he is to pass on his genetic material and he will only be successful if a female picks up, with her cloaca, one of HIS spermataphores. It is truly an amazing process and one of nature’s many wondrous spectacles.
Thus, for a natualrist, it was a grand evening, sitting there in the rain, soaking wet yet so enthralled by it all that I did not fully realize the discomfort of being cold and wet, sitting in the dark. It was one of those very rare natural history events that only occurs under certain climatic circumstances when everything is ideal for a species whose breeding is synchronized and everything was absolutely perfect……actually, The “absolutely Perfect Storm for spotted salamanders.
(Left) A handful of life: Spotted Salamanders (Right) Spotted Salamanders: lots of activity on the pond bottom. The white spots are spermataphores, deposited by the males.
Spotteds are truly gorgeous salamanders with bold yellow spots. The adults do not have gills and have to surface for a breath of air. This happens very quickly and the surfacing and return to the pond bottom takes only a second or two.
The results of a “perfect storm” for spotted salamanders…….an egg mass.
Two frogs seen on the edge of my pond included (left) a Southern leopard frog and (right) a green frog. The green frog is easily distinguished from a bullfrog by the prescence of the two dorso-lateral lines running from behind each eye down to the thigh.