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Salamanders on a Mission!

Posted by Jonathan Twining on Apr 9, 2015 2:00:00 PM

Salamander-2-JonTwiningAfter a bitterly cold and snowy February, there are signs that spring has arrived in New England. The days are getting warmer, and a few flowers are starting to appear, but it is what happens at vernal pools in the spring that gets me so pumped! My first indication that spring is here is the calling of spring peepers and wood frogs as they congregate in vernal pools to do the one thing that God gave them to do … be fruitful and multiply.

The annual amphibian migration usually occurs on one of the first warm, rainy spring nights, when the daytime temperatures are near 60F. I had an inkling this past Friday night that it was migration time in the town where I live in Rhode Island. So my son and I, and my friend Alexandra Echandi, trudged out to a vernal pool, and sure enough, the amphibians had arisen from their slumber. Here and there, along the roadway around the pool, were frogs and salamanders slowly making their way to the water, some coming from several hundred feet away. Can you image just how long it would take, and how much energy it would require, for an amphibian that just emerged from hibernation to move that far? I have a hard enough time just rolling out of bed every morning to make it to my 9:00 class on time.

But these amphibians are on a mission. They have to make it to the vernal pool as soon as possible so they don’t miss out on finding a mate and locating the perfect spot to lay their eggs. So they march on, until they finally reach their destination. But there is no time to relax. The male frogs have to find a good position where they can start their loud and raucous chorus to attract an arriving female. For the male salamanders, it is all about getting their spermatophores in place before the females arrive. I was able to capture this process on video (check it out below). When a female arrives, the male performs a nuptial dance to win her over, and if she is attracted, she will take up his spermatophore to fertilize her eggs before depositing them on a stem of vegetation in the water.

As for my ENC students, in the next couple of weeks they will be busy watching migrating amphibians near campus, and then counting egg masses for the Department of Conservation and Recreation. We are fortunate to have so many vernal pools near our campus. Yet another great reason to be a biology or environmental science major at ENC.

If you're interested in studying Biology or Environmental Science at ENC, contact ENC Admissions at admission@enc.edu or download the Biology Department Fact Sheet.

Written by Jonathan Twining

Jonathan Twining teaches the ecology and environmental science courses for the Biology Department and is the advisor for the Animal Caretakers Team (ACT). Twining worked for a number of years as an environmental scientist and project manager with consulting firms in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He has been very active in the greater community, partnering ENC students with organizations like the Quincy DPW, Wildlands Trust of Southeastern Massachusetts, Massachusetts Audubon, the South Shore Natural Science Center, and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. His passion and primary research interest is the ecology and conservation of vernal pool habitats. He has written numerous articles for NCM Magazine, and has been a speaker in local congregations about the care of creation (environmental stewardship).

Topics: Academics, Environmental Science