Friday, January 13, 2017

warm winter days

The calendar reads January 12 but you wouldn't know it was a day in January by the temperature outside.  The outside air temperature is 65°F and it continues to rain.  Weather conditions like these during the winter months are likely to cause some of our herp species (reptiles and amphibians) to feel the urge to get things going.  The Jefferson salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum  and the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, members of the mole salamander family (Ambystomatidae) will respond to these warm winter days by migrating to vernal pools in which they will breed and lay their eggs.  These salamanders will visit the pools, even if the pools are frozen over, for courting and laying eggs.  The Ambystomids spend most of their lives underground and can sometimes by discovered under rocks or other debris with some searching. 
This spotted salamander was discovered by lifting a piece of tin adjacent to an old barn located in an open field. 

The best time to encounter mole salamanders, above ground, is during the winter migration.  Edge staff have witnessed this migration occurrence as early as mid December and the activity is usually over by late February.  Locating a vernal pool during a warm and rainy day in late December or early January, will provide the best opportunity for seeing some of these reclusive salamanders.  The salamanders are usually very active within the pool and can be viewed swimming in the usually shallow waters of the pool.  Rarely are mole salamanders visible walking above the leaf litter during the daylight hours but may be visible walking above ground during a dark and rainy night. 
Mole salamanders are not usually visible above ground during daylight hours.  The spotted salamander pictured here was removed from a trap where he paused for a photo before returning to the water. 
Now is the time to get out and locate a vernal pool (especially if you are a mole salamander) and pay attention on those warm and rainy nights.  The Jefferson and Spotted salamanders are the two species that you might expect to discover here in southern Ohio.  An unexpected salamander for the Edge, and one that you should hope to see somewhere in Ohio, would be the Eastern tiger salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum.  The tiger salamander may appear similar to the spotted salamander but should be noticeably larger and have a more irregular pattern with its spots. 

Posted by: Rich McCarty