Falling in Love again with Childhood Friends
Fall typically isn’t the time we think about herps (a collective term for frogs and salamanders). This is the time of year when they (herps) borough down into the earth to protect themselves from death caused by freezing cold temperatures. Earlier this week the weather was unusually warm and tropical-like for a mid-September day. On a woods walk, I picked up a branch that had fallen across the trail and discovered I had uncovered the home of a red back salamander.
Have you seen a red backed salamander before? They are evasive and secretive; preferring to hide under small stones, dead logs, and in small holes in the earth under leaf litter. It may be surprising that they are more common than the red efts seen crawling across the forest floor on a wet day.
Another very common, but almost never seen herp, is the spotted salamander. It also seeks cover on under moist decaying logs, stones, and underground tunnels.
The spotted salamander breeds in vernal pools in the spring. The first rainy nights when the grip of winter has finally let go, the spotted salamanders march across the snow to find the vernal pools and begin the next life cycle. The mating ritual occurs without any physical contact between the sexes. The males deposit spermataphores (as it sounds, little pockets of sperm protected in a jelly like mass) on materials under the water, such as small sticks and on the upper surface of leaves. The females then find them and position themselves to fertilize their eggs, which are then deposited in large masses, usually in the same pools.
So curiosity got to me (again!) and I abandoned my original mission for the day to search for more species of herps still awake in the forest. I headed to the brook to pick up stones by the flowing water. Oh, fun! A very large Northern Two-Lined salamander quickly scurried for the nearest cover to escape my awful intrusion.
This was a relaxing and fun way to spend a fall day. The days are much shorter in September, so the light was fading fast in the forest. As I headed home I heard something move in the leaves near my feet. I had to look closely.
I looked again, and hmmm… nothing. I moved my feet and then it moved again, and I saw it!
Camouflage is amazing, isn’t it?
It was a lovely afternoon and I felt like a kid again spending time with my favorite childhood friends, “Frog and Toad.”
In all, I found six species (all the photos posted here were created during my walk) – in just one hour of searching.
As always, please be mindful and respectful to property and wildlife.
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