SQUIGGLING AND SQUIRMING our way through SPRING

SQUIGGLING AND SQUIRMING our way through SPRING

It’s that time of year again when thrushes and warblers serenade forest dwellers, buds burst, and a rejuvenated environment even teases of summer with an occasional tree frog sounding off.  For Steep Rock Association, these cues trigger a certain stewardship action being the monitoring of our critically-important vernal pools.

SQUIGGLING AND SQUIRMING our way through SPRING

A balmy rain-soaked night has aroused the mole salamanders.  Stout legs pulled the long, slender, and grooved bodies of spotted, jefferson, and marbled salamanders out from underground burrows to breed in temporarily refreshed waterbodies.  Approaching a pool, the egg conglomerations of spotted salamanders look otherworldly, glowing against a dappled floor of departed leaves.  Some are laid on the floor while the majority of others are affixed to woody debris.

SQUIGGLING AND SQUIRMING our way through SPRING
Both clear and milky spotted salamander egg masses
SQUIGGLING AND SQUIRMING our way through SPRING
Developing spotted salamander embryos    Note: Masses have a thick, firm membrane surrounding eggs.
SQUIGGLING AND SQUIRMING our way through SPRING
Jefferson egg mass with symbiotic green algae exhibiting a finer matrix

In order to count and identify egg masses, you must carefully wade through the depressions and hope your waders are tall enough. However, before doing so, I like to take a long stoop over the surface and observe what squiggles, squirms, and darts through the water.  Fairy shrimp, marbled salamander larvae, and frog tadpoles can be detected this way.

SQUIGGLING AND SQUIRMING our way through SPRING
Wood duck feather floating on the surface.    Note: Vernal pools provide resources for an astounding diversity of wildlife in addition to obligate species.

A total of 624 spotted salamander egg masses and 197 Jefferson salamander egg masses were counted in 29 vernal pools!  For more information on vernal pool ecology and their importance in Washington’s landscape, see a VISTA newsletter article posted below on April 4, 2017.

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