Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Amphibian Patrol

The call came in right after supper: tonight's the night the amphibians are on the move at the Wilton Wildlife Preserve. Weeks ago, I had volunteered to help the frogs and toads and salamanders cross the road between the woods and their mating pools on the other side, and I'd been waiting for the summons. Finally, it was warm enough and rainy enough for the critters to start their annual exodus, according to naturalist Kenny Barnett, who had spotted a few early starters and sent out the word for us volunteers to meet on Scout Road by 9 PM. Unfortunately, by 9 o'clock the rain had stopped and the temperature had dropped 15 degrees, so we never did find the masses of amphibians we had expected. But we did find a few, including some quite unexpected ones, plus a number already squashed on the road. Happily, this little Four-toed Salamander in the photo was still intact, as well as being easy to see on the yellow centerline. We made sure it got safely across.

Our task tonight was to collect any amphibians we found on the road and place them in a bucket, where we could examine them and determine their species, size, and sex, before releasing them safely on the side of the road nearer their mating sites.

Being small and dark and slow-moving because of the chill, the critters were pretty hard to spot on the dark asphalt, but we did find enough to make the evening interesting.

Here, Kenny is measuring one of the salamanders.

Seven-year-old Cameron got to stay up past his bedtime to help with the catch-and-release project tonight. Here he releases one of the salamanders after it was sexed and measured.

Here are the creatures we found on the road tonight. Mostly, we found Spring Peepers, a wee little ruddy frog with a distinctive X on its back.

And we also found quite a few of these Four-toed Salamanders, which Kenny told us were an unexpected find, since this species of salamander is rarely found in inland sand barrens such as the dominant habitat of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve. There is, however, sufficient deciduous forest adjacent to the sand barrens to provide these little salamanders a home.

Here, Kenny shows us the diagnostic speckled belly of the Four-toed Salamander. He also noted how round its belly was, indicating that this was a female full of eggs.

Aren't these the cutest little toads you have ever seen?

They are Spadefoot Toads, belonging to a genus (Schaphiopus) different from that of our more common Bufo species of toads, and they have smoother skin and eyes with vertical, rather than horizontal pupils. Before we volunteers arrived on the scene tonight, Kenny located these Spadefoot Toads by following the sound of their distinctive call and caught them in the act of mating, so he was able to easily capture them to show to us.

This is a species of toad we are not likely to see any other time, first, because they are quite uncommon in our area, and also, because they spend most of their lives buried in sand. Here, Kenny shows us the distinctive hard black ridge ("spade") on the toad's hind foot, which the toad uses to dig its way into the sand. Apparently, it can dig its way down until it is completely covered in just a matter of seconds.

Just seeing those darling little toads was worth coming out on a rainy, dark, cold night to see. And once again, I am reminded of just how lucky I am to live among so many rich and diverse wildlife habitats here in Saratoga County.


Anonymous said...

There are so many things 'hidden' from our everyday eyes - how wonderful to be able to help these critters on their way! Hope the 'expose' on the spade foot frogs did not affect future generations ;-)
I had never seen a salamander until last year - a red backed (?) - very exciting - I put him in my book. I am off shortly to see what nature has wrought since Sunday - rain and warm temps should provide me with treasures!

threecollie said...

That is my kind of treasure hunting! What a wonderful way to spend an evening. I have never seen a spadefoot toad...maybe someday.

June said...

What an adventure of a night! What wonderful little critters! And I am so pleased that there are people who go out to help these tiny animals do what they must do.
I am so glad Cameron got to stay up and help! Way to engender and strengthen a child's interest in the natural world!

Louise said...

You are lucky! What fun to go out on such a dark night, to help these critters across the road safely.

suep said...

Glad to know you were able to respond to the Amphib Alert - and thank you for sharing with photos, for those of us unable to go !

Will now put Spadefoot into that mental list of local "possibilities" - it goes to show you should never rule anything out because it "doesn't below there"

Ellen Rathbone said...

OH! What lovely toads! I've always wanted to see one of those. Lucky you!

Unknown said...

Thanks to all who showed up, and it was great to see so many people enjoying our natural history!! There's a run down of the larvae growth at the facebook page for my blog at this link, scroll down a bit when you get there. @Thanks June!!!/pages/Naturalist-Guy/135805843117555

Unknown said...

Oh and by the way, this is a fantastic Natural History Blog!!! I had actually found this a while back, but now making the connection. Thank you. Kenny

Woodswoman Extraordinaire said...

What an awesome evening adventure!! I agree with threecollie, that that is totally my kind of treasure hunting, too.

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Thanks, dear friends, for taking the time to add your appreciative comments. It sure would have been fun to have you all along for this amphibian adventure. I understand that we probably will NEVER see a Spadefoot Toad except when it moves to its breeding pool, since it spends the rest of the year underground, eating earthworms and other soil-dwelling critters. So what a special privilege it was to actually see those two. Thanks a million, Kenny, for capturing them and showing them to us.