I was out and about this week, but in looking over the pictures and notes didn’t feel I had enough for a coherent blog post based on that alone, so… here are a couple of seasonal snippits and then a review of our local salamanders (given that I was seeing them this week).
Some Current Seasonal Happenings:
The Grey Tree Frogs are calling away, on a warm day you can hear their short trills from just about anywhere in the Valley.
These photographs were taken in the Valley, albeit a few years ago. This is an adult Grey Tree Frog. They are a small, compact frog with a dry, rumpled back.
This fellow was calling from beside the swim pond. They make their loud trill by inflating their throat pouch.
This Tree Frog was swimming in the Fire Pond. Note the bright yellow on the back of its hind legs.
This photograph was taken just this week from off the bridge that crosses from the Dairy Field into the Main Field (by the pump house). This is a breeding cluster of Common Shiners. For much of the year, this species is the plain, silver-grey of most minnows. At breeding, the males put on fiery red fins and grow bumps on their faces. Are the fins really this bright? They're at least close. Because this shot was taken through slightly muddy water, I had to adjust the colors to get rid of the grey fog, the red may have become a bit too strong, but strong and eye-catching it is. There is one of these fish in the tank in the Store. Its fins are not currently as red, but a look at him will give you a better idea of how these fish appear.
The Tiger Beetles are also out. This is the Six-Spotted Tiger Beetle. These beetles are largely found (like this one) along sandy/rocky water edges, where they are roaming, day-time hunters. No uncertain color adjustment here - these creatures are emerald green.
For convenience, one can classify our salamanders into three general groups based upon where they breed: The Stream Salamanders, The Upland Salamanders, and The Pond Salamanders.
Two species of salamanders can commonly be found along our streams – the nearly-ubiquitous Two-Lined Salamander and the somewhat more regionally rare Dusky Salamander. I saw both of these species this week.
This was the Two-Lined Salamander which I found along below the Creek House this week. It has the typical pair of yellow lines on a brown background.
Two-Lines like this one tend to be long and skinny creatures. The adults are most commonly found under rocks where the ground is still moistened by the adjacent stream.
Dusky Salamanders, like this one I just found close by the Farm Creek, are stockier, greyer animals. Note the large hind legs that would befit a miniature Brontosaurus. Like Two-Lines, the Dusky adults are often found under rocks relatively close to, or even partially in, the creeks.
The larvae of these species, like this gob (so what would you call a pile of larval salamanders?) of juvenile Two-Lines are usually found under rocks in the water.
Our main Forest Salamander is the Red-Backed. In the right habitat, there almost seems to be a Red-Backed under every stone. This species does not come to the water to lay its eggs, instead it guards a cluster of eggs in some moist upland shelter. Look for them under rocks in the forest. While you probably won’t find them on totally dry ground, they can often find a damp spot under rocks or other debris.
Red-Backs come in two flavors: Red (left) and Lead (right). This is, so far as anybody knows, one species with two color morphs. There is some suggestion that color differences may reflect differences in cold tolerance. You can find both forms on Phudd Hill.
Our Pond Salamanders include the Red-Spotted Newt, the Spotted Salamander, and the Jefferson Salamander. All three of these breed in standing water. However, the first is often found in permanent ponds, where its skin poison seems to protect it somewhat from predatory fish. The last two however are so-called vernal-pool amphibians: they rely on finding temporary pools where seasonal drying excludes some predators such as fish.
All three of these species spend a substantial portion of their life-cycle in the upland forest: the Newt’s ‘punk teenager’ stage (aka, the Red Eft) is often seen wandering through the woodlands. Adults of the other two salamanders spend all but a week or so of the year in upland forest. However, much of that is spent out of sight in the litter and below ground.
This adult Red-Spotted Newt is cruising beside what appear to be Jefferson Salamander eggs; Newts are predators, and we have watched them try to butt their way into an egg mass like this in order to eat the enclosed eggs or larvae.
There's nothing subtle about Red Efts - they are bright orange and crawl about on the surface of the ground in broad daylight. Not surprisingly, this strategy is only wise because they are apparently a distasteful or even down-right poisonous mouthful. This is the juvenile dispersing stage of the Red-Spotted Newt. After having been born in a pond, the larva metamorphose into these headliners which wander the woods for a year or more before settling into a pond and going through a second set of morphological changes to become the more aquatic stage we call the Red-Spotted Newt.
Spotted Salamanders are dramatic but rarely seen outside of the early-April breeding season. They can be up to seven or more inches long.
The Jefferson Salamander has much the same shape and habits as the Spotted, but is notably drabber and a tad smaller. There is a good deal of confusion about the taxonomy of this group, but we'll call this a Jefferson's for now.
For more on our regional amphibians, please see this file which we put together a several years ago… you’ll recognize a few of the pictures.
If you come across any frogs or salamanders you’re curious about, don’t hesitate to send us a photograph!