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Amphibian Night in Brown County

By Jim Horton

Our organization makes every effort to get our members out in the field to view herps in their natural state. Sometimes perfect weather conditions occur at the spur of the moment for early amphibian movement. Earlier this month, such conditions were favorable.

On Friday, March 8, HHS members were treated to an impromptu event where they saw a host of wildlife at a woodland vernal pool in Brown County. Early March ushered in all-day rains combined with warm temperatures. An email was sent to the subscribing membership two days before the event and members quickly replied with an enthusiastic yes!

The group met up in Brown County State Park on a Friday evening and walked only steps away to a woodland pond. Adults and kids aimed their flashlights and headlamps toward the water revealing multitudes of amphibians. Spotted salamanders were abundant in and around the perimeter of the pool. In fact, many were crossing a nearby road towards the pond. Several met their fate by vehicle traffic.

Spotted salamander

Female spotteds had already deposited eggs onto vegetation throughout the pool. Adult males were gathering in large groups, swirling and circling below the surface in typical breeding behavior.

Red-spotted newts could be seen nearing the jelly-like salamander eggs masses. Newts find easy meals voraciously feeding on stationary frog and salamander eggs. Some were netted for photographs and released.

A few Jefferson’s salamanders were still hanging around the perimeter of the pond. Jeffs are among the first of our cold tolerant salamanders to migrate to the wetlands for breeding, often during snow and ice! Many in the group had not seen this species in the flesh. They were happy to get photos of this species before it travels back deep into the forest.

Jefferson Salamander

Only a few spring peepers would call out signally during our visit. This was an odd occurrence to some of us who return to this area each season. Typically, spring peepers would call in mass, often so loud that conversations are difficult. However, peepers were easily visually found in and around the water edge. The lack of anuran calls is still puzzling.

Spring peeper

One of our fall breeding “mole” salamanders, the Marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum) was evident in the water. The tiny larvae, only under two inches in length, were floating in and out of leaf litter throughout. These larvae had been in the pond since last fall. This early activity gives the species a headstart in growth from other salamanders. In fact, the marbled young will actively feed on the eggs of other salamanders in the pond.

Crustaceans known as fairy shrimp (Branchiecta lynchi) made their annual appearance in the water. These tiny shrimp-like creatures lie beneath the surface of the vernal pool. The eggs hatch temporary pools fill with water in late winter. Males/females mate, lay eggs and parish. The entire life cycle is about 91 days.

Fairy shrimp

It was a great night to meet and talk with some of our members. The event was well received and we were happy to oblige. To some, driving an hour to hike in the dark with rainfall might be a bit maddening. To us, one could say it’s our own level of March Madness!


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