Monday, February 27, 2017

Another day, different vernal pools

Upstate New York was blessed by the spring gods this past week with a balmy high nearly reaching the 70s breaking record high temperatures for February. Putting aside my fears and worries of the long lasting effects of climate change, I decided to climb a mountain and visit some different vernal pools for once.

Unfortunately, the pool at the top of the mountain was still iced over and no signs of life were visible. No reward besides the hour of cardio it took to get here. Onto the next.

Luckily this vernal pool is only halfway up the mountain and was free of ice and full of amphibians. Just the usual suspects though, marbled salamanders and eastern newts. The newts were out and about and looking to mate. Males develop large hindlimbs to strongly grasp females behind the neck while using their developed tail fins to assist in wafting pheromones into the females face to get her in the mood. Romantic, no?

You can catch a glimpse of this behavior below.

And a new vernal pool classic: the fairy shrimp. Freshwater cousins to sea monkeys AKA brine shrimp, these crustaceans are true to their name as their wispy, translucent bodies could be described as fairy like. I can't say for sure because I've never seen an actual fairy. I'd say "alien" is probably another fitting descriptor for these animals, between the 11 pairs of undulating legs and the egg sac on the females. Surprisingly they were much flightier than the salamanders, but I guess that's probably because the shrimp could easily end up as a quick meal for them.

Also seen were leeches and water beetles. Soon the frogs, more insects, and even more salamanders will show up with the warming temperatures. Fun fun fun!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Another day, same vernal pool

Sub-par evening glow. 

I made the mistake of going to the vernal pool a few days after a snowstorm in the cold so after trudging through the snow so all I did was take a few pictures of the pond itself. It was also too dark to get any footage or pictures of the most interesting animals in the world (the marbled salamander and eastern newt, as if I had to say!).

But today I finally woke up early enough to see the vernal pool in the morning light which also helped with capturing footage of the salamanders themselves. Just in case you were bored of marbled salamander larvae, I was lucky enough to have an eastern newt swim past my GoPro for today's montage with 100% more jazz.

Behind the scenes! A high end production for sure... 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Winter still sucks

Well it's been over a week since the last time I went outside due to a combination of cold weather and my unwillingness to go out in cold weather, but yesterday had a balmy high of 50 degrees which meant another trip to the old vernal pool. The salamanders also had the same idea and were out and about in numbers.

It's time for everyone's favorite party game: How Many Salamanders?
Scroll down for the answer!*

A few eastern newts were also swimming around and I even saw one trying to snap up a marbled salamander larvae for lunch. Unfortunately for the newt his meal got away. 

And here's some footage from the day of salamanders not doing much with some internet meme music. I left my GoPro sitting on the bottom of the pool for about 6 minutes and was happy to find that a few different salamanders  ended up swimming in front of it. I'll have to experiment with this some more, it'd be cool to capture some more interesting behaviors. 

*Answer: I counted 10. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Winter sucks

Normally I spend winter occupied with fun activities like wallowing in depression and playing videogames all day but despite how fulfilling that might sound I decided to do something different this year. So I finally went outside to enjoy the nature that somehow persists during this dreadful season. Luckily there's one amphibian that is crazy enough to be active during the winter or else I'd really have no motivation to go outside except for maybe exercising my atrophying body. While I once hiked up and down the Grand Canyon with ease I found myself out of breath after the short walk through the woods as this was the first instance of sustained physical activity in months, unless you count going to the mall to pick up a copy of the latest Pokemon game. Anyway enough about me, let's go to the vernal pool.

The vernal pool.

Behold, the lair of the marbled salamander! At least their aquatic larvae anyway. Adults are terrestrial and rarely seen, living up to their family's common name of "mole salamanders" by spending most of their time underground. This is an interesting salamander with a unique lifestyle which has been conveniently covered by David Attenborough's Life in Cold Blood series so just watch this video if you want to know more about this wonderful creature. Actually Sir David forgot to mention how these salamanders lay their eggs in the bottoms of dry vernal pools in the fall which hatch when the pools fill later in the season. The larvae then slowly grow throughout the winter and get a significant headstart in growth compared to the other species which normally breed in the springtime. 

Find it?

To my surprise there were also a few adult eastern newts hanging out in the pool. Unfortunately I couldn't get a picture of them, so you'll just have to trust me on this one. Will I brave the cold again to find these animals and maybe pay attention to the other winter flora and fauna? Tune in next week to find out! 

A closer look.