Sunday, March 01, 2009

So it looks like Friday night (Feb. 27th) was the night we'd been waiting for since November, the night that the tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) finally got enough rain to come out and breed. Tiger salamanders in some parts of New Jersey and Delaware have been breeding for a couple months, but not at the spot I've been targeting for about three years now. Scott and I have been watching the weather forecasts, making trips down there, and asking other herpers who also do the same to see if the vernal pools in which the tiger salamanders breed have been filling up with water. Tiger salamanders might breed on any warm (= not freezing) night in the winter, but they need water to do it (do it) in, and they'll stay put until it rains just enough to give them water to play in.

Tigers breed once a year, and I can't imagine how frustrating all this waiting must have been for them. Of course I'm anthropomorphizing, but imagine that you get to have sex only once per year (and you live much shorter lives than we do) and you're depending on the weather to make the magic happen. Most years the rains come at about the time you're in the mood, but this year it's been months and it just hasn't been raining enough. You're down in your burrow, maybe sleeping a little, but certainly not getting any kind of relief.

It was rough for us too, stewing in our own frustrated herping urges with no promise for anything exciting except these tiger salamanders - bruisers of the salamander world that can swallow mice whole and grow up to around eight inches. We've waited and waited, made dry (literally) runs to check the pools in the middle of the night, and when the rains finally came... we couldn't go. We had a Greater Philadelphia Herpetological Society steering committee meeting that same night! Are we committed or what? We skipped a once-a-year herping opportunity for a meeting!

So we did the next best thing and went out first thing Saturday morning. We searched hard but found no adults. We did find what they left behind, these egg masses in the deepest puddle in this nearly-dry shrubby pool. In the photo you're looking for two grey blobs. The easiest one to spot is two-thirds down, a little right of center.

Here's one close up that you can see attached to a grass stem.

Here's Scott taking a picture of another egg mass - note that we need to be careful (and we were) not to step on or too close to the egg masses. You don't want to damage them.

We left a little pissed off but at least a little happy to have seen at least some evidence of the salamanders that have otherwise eluded us for yet another winter.

There was still plenty of worthwhile scouting to do, so off we went to other wetlands.

First, check out this shallow (everything was shallow - a dry winter so far, I suppose) beaver pond.

We saw plenty of these gnawed-off tree stumps sticking out of the water.

Next we tried some slightly different terrain, a nice holly-oak woodland at the edge of the Delaware Bay that I think holds some promise for spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata) in another couple weeks (hell, if we'd had some strong sun on Saturday we might have even seen some then). We saw some of these puddles that could be proper pools with some more precipitation (you're looking at that dark spot on the leaf litter)...

...and we saw these long, deeper ditches that seem to hold water for a lot more of the year.

We can smell it now - I'm not referring to any literal smells (or to salamander sex), but that almost-tangible sensation that spring is almost here. Sure there's a snow storm bearing down on us as I write this. That's just a minor hitch. The 50s will be here soon after - that means breeding amphibians when it's wet and spotted turtles when the sun comes out.

Get ready.