Quoddy Nature News – April Amphibians

Amphibians, especially spawning amphibians, usually like things a little damp, but we had mostly non-amphibian weather in the Quoddy region during the first half of April. March was warm and pretty dry, and some pools had disappeared before spawning season had begun with earnest. There is a combination of factors that precipitate spawning in early season amphibians, but the first warm, rainy night of spring usually instills a strong emotion of romance and triggers a mass migration of Wood frogs, mole salamanders and Spring peepers to the area vernal pools. But what happens if ideal or even good conditions are not met? Then the migration may become erratic and longer term, with lower numbers of individuals in some areas and with fewer species, and possibly a reduced new generation. This is not necessarily ‘bad’. Our amphibians can produce, if the conditions are right, many more offspring than is good for the local ecology, and first year survival is usually only a few percent anyway. If the weather patterns change drastically, i.e. stuff like global warming, where adverse conditions would be the norm and the critters didn’t have a chance to evolve, then we may lose some or all of our local species, but I don’t see that in the near future.

I saw my first Wood frog on the evening of March 25th, after the snowstorm. It was a pretty cold and docile critter that let me bring it over to the side of Leighton Point Road. Spring peepers were reportedly calling on March 27th, but I didn’t hear any until early April, and I didn’t see any mole salamanders until April 13th. The warm weather did rush some Wood frogs, and on April 18th I moved some hatched tadpoles, that were lying on the mud of a roadside ditch that had dried out, to a deeper vernal pool with water. This procedure is usually not recommended, as the potential for relocating parasites and other undesirables is real, but I have a soft spot for amphibians, and didn’t want to leave them to perish. As of this writing on April 22nd, I have seen fewer signs of amphibians than in a typical year. This also is noted by Kirk Gentalen, a naturalist on Vinalhaven. Whether or not the peak migration is still to come is unknown, but the heavy rain as of this writing is certainly welcome, as the Quoddy region at this point has received less than half of the rainfall of a normal year.

The two amphibian walks were also interesting. On the evening of April 20th in Pembroke, no amphibians were noted on the dry road; Spring peepers and Wood frogs were calling and Peepers and Wood frogs and one Spotted salamander were observed, as were a few salamander and wood frog egg masses. On the evening of April 21st at Moosehorn there was a slight drizzle and conditions were a little more favorable to amphibians. We found Blue-spotted and Spotted salamanders and a little less than average number of egg masses, but we found no Wood frog egg masses, and no Wood frogs were calling. The Peepers, however, were incessantly reminding us why we were there, and we observed some, and also some Wood frogs and one Green frog, some neat leeches (American medicinal?), huge diving beetles and some glow worms on the trail.

The best part of both walks were the participants. Even though the conditions weren’t optimum and the numbers of species were lower than usual, we had a good supply of enthusiastic youngsters, both boys and girls, eagerly searching to pry out every secret out of the night. Sometimes, during the rest of the year, I think that all kids are just interested in TV shows and video games. Thankfully, every year my spirit is rejuvenated by these amphibian walks, and, for a while anyway, I don’t feel that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. The kids, if we teach them right, will take care of it.