Woods, Waters and Wildlife
Spring salamander migration:
By CHIP GROSSMarch 1, 2010
'It Was a Dark and Rainy Night'
It happens only once per year and under cover of darkness, a natural phenomenon that relatively few people have ever witnessed. In very early spring, usually during the month of March, tens of thousands of salamanders leave their underground haunts and migrate to small, shallow, woodland ponds throughout Ohio known as vernal pools. There they gyrate in weird mating rituals, lay their eggs, then head for home, leaving their eggs to hatch and the larvae to fend for themselves.
"The best time to view the spring salamander migration is on warm, rainy March nights," said herpetologist Greg Lipps. "You can sometimes observe it on nights without rain, too, but the salamanders seem most attracted to the temporary woodland pools when warm, moist conditions exist." Lipps is a member of Tricounty Rural Electric Cooperative of northwest Ohio.
Several species of Ohio salamanders make a spring mating migration: blue-spotted, Eastern tiger, Jefferson, smallmouth, spotted and streamside. Known collectively as "mole salamanders," the group gets its name for their behavior of burrowing below ground most of the year.
"Mole salamanders live their lives almost entirely underground," said Lipps. "Other than during breeding season, they may only be on the surface of the ground a few days per year, so they're seldom seen."
How large are these creepy critters? Some measure a mere three inches in length, while a big Eastern tiger salamander-named for its mottled, orangish-brown coloration-may be nearly a foot long. But don't worry, they don't bite. If you see one, feel free to pick it up and examine it. Just remember to handle it gently and replace it where you found it.
|Where can I see salamanders this spring?
If you think Vernal Pools is some overpaid professional athlete, you need to get outdoors more. Vernal pools are the temporary, shallow, woodland wetlands where mole salamanders migrate to lay eggs. To see this early-spring, nighttime phenomenon for yourself, it's helpful - at least for the first trip - to go with others who know where to look and what to look for.
Many nature centers offer spring salamander walks, so check there first. But if you'd like to try it on your own, slip on a pair of boots, grab a flashlight and head for the woods on a warm, rainy March evening. A salamander identification brochure will also be helpful, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has one available for free. To get publication #348, "Ohio's Amphibians," go online to www.wildohio.com, or call 800-WILDLIFE.
Once mole salamanders breed, their eggs hatch within a few weeks and the young remain in the woodland pools for several months, feeding and growing. But by midsummer, about the time the pools begin to dry up for the year, the young salamanders go through a metamorphosis.
Like frogs, they change from breathing through gills to breathing with lungs, allowing them to live on land. They then leave the water, fanning out in all directions for hundreds of yards, burrowing through the leaf litter into the earth. Likely, they will not appear again until the next spring, as breeding adults themselves.
Ohio Salamander Monitoring Program
If you'd like to help survey the occurrence and abundance of your local salamander population, the Ohio Salamander Monitoring Program may be for you. The program partners with park districts, nature preserves, wildlife areas and other groups and individuals to monitor salamanders by using standardized protocols. Interested individuals can learn more by going online to www.ohioamphibians.com. Or contact Greg Lipps by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 419-376-3441.
W. H. "Chip" Gross is Country Living's outdoors editor and may be reached for comment about any of his "Woods, Waters & Wildlife" columns through his Web site, www.chipgross.com. He'd also like to hear from you about any outdoor story ideas you might like him to investigate.
|New Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp now available
If you’d like to help not only salamanders but other Ohio wildlife, purchasing one of the new Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamps will do just that. Available beginning March 1, the $15 stamp was developed “because we know there are Ohioans who want to contribute to wildlife conservation efforts,” said Dave Graham, chief of the ODNR’s Division of Wildlife. “For years, the funding for these wildlife projects has come from Ohio’s hunters, trappers and anglers. This stamp will allow wildlife enthusiasts the opportunity to directly impact the future of Ohio’s native animals.”
Fourteen dollars of the $15 stamp goes directly to supporting Ohio’s wildlife, with one dollar designated for the license vendor as a handling fee. To purchase an Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp, go online to www.wildohiostamp.com or call 800-WILDLIFE. This inaugural year’s stamp sports a photo of a beautiful male Baltimore oriole, taken by amateur wildlife photographer Russell Reynolds of Lima. The stamp proceeds will support:
• Endangered and threatened wildlife and its habitat.
• Keeping common wildlife species
• Habitat restoration, land purchases and conservation easements.
• Educational products for students and wildlife enthusiasts.
• Wildlife and habitat research projects.
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