Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spotted Salamander

Friday night there was a steady rain and George convinced me that it was the magical night he had been waiting for for weeks...the night of the spotted salamander migration!  The spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) spends all winter burrowed deep in the ground.  In the early spring on the first rainy, warmish night, they venture out of their winter hiding to migrate to vernal pools to lay (or fertilize) eggs. It is one of the few times a human might actually be able to catch sight of these highly reclusive creatures.

Earlier in the week George had gone searching for the elusive amphibian only to be disappointed.  It was indeed the first warmish night of spring, but the pool still had a skim coat of ice; not a single yellow-spotted creature to be found.  So when he came up to the computer room Friday at 9:30 pm where I was cozily surfing the web, I was not sure I wanted to don my wellies and raincoat to search in the rain and mud for this illusory prize. 

But boy was I ever rewarded for braving the elements. As you can see above we were successful in our quest!  We had barely arrived at the trail before George spotted those yellow spots.  I was amazed how big and fleshy its body was.  And I loved the ridges on its flanks, not to mention those wild yellow spots.  The whole creature seemed quite improbable and yet there it was looking back at us in the soft rain.

The distance from the trail head to the pool was only about a half a mile, but I couldn't imagine how such a small-legged creature could walk so far on those little side-protruding limbs.  But somehow they do it!  And when we arrived at the pool it was clear that many do indeed make it.  The video below shows a salamander on the moss-lined edge of the pool making its leap into the water.  When we looked into the pool you could see maybe twenty or so salamanders writhing, swimming, and every so often coming up for air.

(After pressing play, click the bottom right corner to enlarge the video.  It is fun to watch it large!)

We found five or six salamanders on their way to the pool.  At first I wasn't too worried about stepping on them because of the bright yellow spots, but then George found a couple that had no spots.  I am not sure if they were young ones or a different species. 

On the drive home I couldn't help but think that we live in a crazy, amazing world.  To think this startlingly beautiful creature not only exists, but lives right near me blows my mind!  And I must mention that, yes, they really do appear to have a smile on their face.  I know I am anthropomorphizing here, but I will never forget their docile, yet determined nature.

So if you are ever offered a chance to search for gold in the middle of the night in the pouring rain, take it my friend... take it!  You will be rich in experience, your heart will sing, and you won't be able to wipe a ridiculous grin off your face for weeks.


Nessy said...

My herpetologist friend, Bryan Stuart from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, said the non-spotted salamander in the fifth photo down is Jefferson's Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum). He also said they have a super complex polyploid reproductive system. Very cool! Thanks Bryan!

Anonymous said...

Vanessa, your blog always makes me realize that I am not living my life with enough close contact with art and nature. And, of course, seeing your pictures and hearing your voice on the page makes me miss you both!