Creatures from the Black Lagoon…..
No this is not a B rated movie review from the 50’s, but a way to alert our readers that spring is well on its way! Turkey vultures, crocus, red-wing blackbirds are a clue; however, a sure sign of spring that we are all familiar with is the sound of spring peepers and wood frogs. As the temperatures rise, so does the crescendo, reaching a fever pitch in early to mid April. In our last article, “Vernal pools: Murky Puddles of Fascinating Life”, we discussed what a vernal pool is and the importance they play in nature. Since both of us are educators, the rationale for writing this column is twofold, first to educate our readership on the fascinating natural world in which we live and, second, to get people out to enjoy that same natural world…..hence the title, “nearby nature”. We are blessed with a plethora of parks and opportunities to get out and enjoy the wonders of nature. The Geauga Metro parks, Hiram College Field Station, Nelson Ledges State Park, Eagle Creek Nature Preserve, Mosquito Lake State Park, not to mention your own back yard or the woods nearby. We can’t think of a better way to spend a bright sunny day! In the next series of articles we will try to help point out what is occurring, try to identify some common plants, wildflowers, or birds to look for as you venture out. (In our best classroom voice) Boys and girls let’s start today’s lesson…… In the last article we talked about vernal pools, let’s review how we determine what makes up a vernal pool. It is small and shallow, isolated from other bodies of water or other wetlands, fills seasonally and occasionally dries out, is situated in woodland or old field, has obligate species and lacks fish. In this article we will focus on the “obligate species” or “indicator species”. It is important to be able to identify what you are looking at when you go out into the woods this weekend. The following will help you distinguish between a spring peeper, a wood frog, and/or a toad. What the egg masses of each species looks like in the pool. What are the differences between frog egg masses and salamander egg masses. Help identify some of the common salamanders that you may see migrating into the pools. And finally…. creatures from the deep you might see. (You must talk like Boris Karloff when you say that) Eastern Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) 1 ½ -2 ¾ inch long The wood frog is the most terrestrial frog in the woods. For most of its life it prefers moist woodlands to ponds. However in March even before the ice melts, it finds its way into vernal pools. During courtship the males produce a series of five or six loud clucking notes. Eggs are laid in large gelatinous masses with spherical-shaped black eggs. Egg masses are attached to submerged vegetation. Northern Spring Peeper (Hyla Crucifer) ¾ -1 ¼ inch long The peeper can be easily be identified by the prominent dark X marking on its back and rounded tree-frog toe pads. This small tree frog lives in moist woodlands and swamps. Small in stature, size of a quarter, this familiar call is a short high-pitched, one-syllable whistles. A full chorus of peepers can be deafening. Egg masses are similar to wood frog egg masses Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma Maculatum) 6 -7 ¾ inches long These large salamanders are found throughout Ohio in low-lying moist woodlands adjacent to ponds and wetlands. They are reclusive by nature, burrow underground and are rarely seen except in early spring. They migrate in large numbers during the night to the same pools they were born in year after year, imprinted like mammals and birds. Salamander egg masses can be distinguished from frogs egg masses in that they are a solid fist or softball-size gelatinous mass that is attached to a small stick or other ridged structure. Unlike frogs with thousands of eggs, salamander egg masses only contain around one hundred or so eggs. Northern Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber) 4 ¼ – 6 inches long This salamander inhabits the eastern parts of the state and can be found under logs, moss and rocks. It also has a distinctive yellow iris and stout body. In addition to the wood frog, spring peeper, and salamanders; invertebrates such as giant water bugs, water scorpions, leeches, crawling water beetle, caddisfly larvae, whirligig beetles and dragonflies and many others are indicators of a vernal pool. Other amphibian species such as the American toad, tree frogs, green frogs, various types of turtles, and snakes can inhabit a vernal pool. Wood ducks also make use of vernal pools to raise their young. Now class, take out your pencils it’s time for a pop quiz!! Did You Know? e Wood frogs can freeze solid and thaw out without any serious injury. e The American Toads lay their eggs in long viscous strands that loop around and through the vegetation at the edge of the pool or pond. e The largest salamander in Ohio is the Eastern Tiger Salamander measuring up to 8 ¼ inches long. UPDATE on the maple syrup article: Mark Apple reports that he will make around 500 gallons of syrup this year. “It was a strange year with lots of sap; however the sugar content was low.” GET OUTSIDE AND COME JOIN THE FUN. GET OUT AND ENJOY NEARBY NATURE…… Vernal Poolooza! March 23 – Join the vernal pool party and see first-hand how these unique habitats team with fascinating life in early spring. This will be our first vernal pool monitoring of the spring. If we are lucky, we will hear the “quacks” of wood frogs. Registration is a must (call 330.569.6003 or email firstname.lastname@example.org) as below-freezing temperatures will postpone the party. Dress warm, wear waterproof boots and pack a flashlight as we hike to some vernal pools to begin our spring monitoring and observe some of the first signs of life in the ponds. The party begins at 5:30pm. Meet at the James H. Barrow Field Station in Hiram Township, located between Hiram and Garrettsville on Wheeler Rd. (between SR 305 and SR 82). The Field Station is managed by Hiram College as a nature preserve for research and education.