Field Notes

They are coming. It won’t be long now. On the first dark, rainy, foggy night with temperatures above 45 degrees, they will appear. They will be loud, cold and maybe a little slimy. And they will be everywhere.

This will be the first wave of amphibians as they head toward their traditional shallow pools and ponds to begin the annual mating rituals.

The big three in that first wave will be led by the wood frog. They may show up in February in a mild winter or as late as April in some years.

These medium-sized frogs, “Rana sylvatica,” with the raccoon like mask, will spend most of their life on land in the woods or fields. But when the weather begins to warm, they will bring new meaning to the term “spring break” as they gather in the traditional breeding ponds to meet and greet others of their kind.

You will hear them before you see them. The call, sounding much like a quacking duck, can be raucous and incessant at times as the males call out their locations. The ladies seemingly cannot ignore this Siren call and soon join the gents. The results are easily seen as softball size globular clusters of clear, gelatinous eggs, each with a little black larva in the center that will hatch out in two to three weeks. After hatch, the tadpole stage will last for six to 10 weeks before they become young froglets and leave the water for the forests and fields.

The well-known spring peepers arrive shortly after and announce their presence with the high pitched peeping sound that may continue into mid-summer. On a warm, damp, spring night the noisy call can be continuous and nearly deafening.

These elegant little frogs are pinkish tan and usually have a conspicuous dark X on their backs. They also have expanded toe tips which allow for climbing. Eggs are laid individually and attached to underwater weeds and twigs.

The third member of our ninja early arrivals is much more stealthy. In fact it may take a little effort to find them. This would be the spotted salamander, “Ambystoma maculatum,” a member of the mole salamander family. They are charcoal-to-black on the back with a double row of yellow spots. Sturdily built and stocky, they spend most of their lives digging deep underground. Occasionally they can be found under stumps or rocks or maybe deep in plowed ground.

The males are usually first to arrive at the breeding pools and sometimes will be attracted to a flashlight. It is not unusual to find 40 or 50 salamanders swimming around in a small shallow pond. After mating, large, milky white clumps of eggs about the size of a hen’s egg will be left behind attached to water plants and sticks. A week or so of revelry, and the spotteds return to dry ground and go off on their merry way.

Now, this is where the fun begins. As soon as the snow melts and the ground thaws, when the temperature reaches at least 45 degrees or more, on a good dark night preferably with a little rain or drizzle, now is the time to find the first wave of amphibians.

First, remember where you have seen those clumps of salamander eggs in the past. Shallows ponds alongside the creek or seeps holding water in the meadow or woods would be a good place to start. Some that go dry in the summer could be good. Preferably some ponds that don’t have fish as they will eat the larva.

Take a good flashlight, some waterproof boots, and possibly rain wear as needed. As always, pith helmets are optional.

Now head out to the small waters and observe closely. Spotted salamanders and peepers are there for the finding. Also, you may find water beetles, leeches and larger tadpoles from last year as well as other water critters such as red spotted newts which live there year-round.

The wood frogs are extremely wary and difficult to see but if you sit and wait – don’t move much – they will come to the top of the water to breathe. With wood frogs, this can be done better in the daytime.

So there it is.

Springtime is getting close. Wood frogs were heard here in Green Bank last Saturday. The snow is just a temporary setback.

Time to get out and see what nature has to offer. You will find that the shallows are very much alive. They are coming soon to a waterhole near you.


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