Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Hidden Ones

I walk out to the pool each morning—the night’s frenzy so foreign, so shrouded.
Hoping to see better, in daylight, what lay hidden last night beyond the beam of my light. The quacking of Wood Frogs and piercing calls of Spring Peepers have gone with the night, though they are still here, replaced now by the raspy voices of Chorus Frogs, tucked away in the stems of plants peeking above the surface at the water’s edge.
With one step, they, too now are quiet.

Last night I stood in the same spot, within this ring of grass, a dense mat covering the bottom of the pool. Easing apart the tangled stems with my toe, careful not to tear into their world like ripping into a prize, I gently step in, and wait, still. Clusters of spermatophores shine as white flecks against the dark floor all around. Though I see nothing, they are here.
Beneath the layers of decaying grasses and leaves, the salamanders are moving.

Nocturnal and soft-bodied, from their world under ground, walking great distances under cover of night, into this water of their birth, they have returned only to breed, and leave.
No scales, no claws, no teeth--
their only defense, the darkness.

I lift my flashlight from the surface, muffling the beam under my jacket, restoring their night.
And soon, they emerge beyond the tip of my boot,
snatching a quick breath at the surface before disappearing into the black again.
The hidden ones in these spring waters.

(photos enlarge with click)

Spotted Salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, male

Vernal pools are seasonal basins of water essential to the reproduction of several amphibian species unable to breed in ponds, creeks or rivers, where fish would feed on their eggs.
Because they are often seen as nothing more than low, unattractive, swampy areas, these important habitats are drained or filled, destroying them and the unseen animals that depend on them as breeding grounds.
Studying these areas at night for a few weeks in the spring reveals the vulnerable lives often unnoticed at any other time of year.

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swamp4me said...

Salamanders are such marvelous beasts -- thanks for sharing them with us.

Annette said...

I love the sequential shots of the salamander, Nina! Give us more! How can you tell the salamander is a male? Are females less brilliant in color?

nina at Nature Remains. said...

Annette--Males/females have different body shapes at this time of season. Without going into great detail, the area behind the back legs, where the tail joins the body, is actively producing the components of the spermatophores--gelatinous plugs topped with sperm, and "planted" in a place where the females will pick them up later to fertilize her eggs. See the plumpness? A male.

But your interest in coloring is one I also wonder about. Especially the pattern of the spots--different from one to another. It would be especially sweet to discover if I could recognize individuals from year to year as they return each spring to breed! But I think that would be a tiring experiment--counting and mapping spots!

KGMom said...

I love the spots. Almost luminescent.
Thanks for your night time adventures to capture them.

Linda in Erie said...

What an awesome sight to see! Great photos of the salamanders.

Mary said...

Aren't early spring nights the best, Nina? To be able to walk outdoors at 9pm and listen... I'm glad you found your salamanders.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

It is so exciting to go along with you to see the Salamanders. I can just see you sitting pool side counting spots. tee hee... Do try to relax and enjoy them as we get to through your blog. Most wonderful.

Dave Coulter said...

Nice series of shots....spring's on the way!

Heron said...

Thank you Nina, this is magic !

Ellen Snyder said...

Thanks for the nice notes and photos of the spotteds. We're still under snow and ice in southeastern New Hampshire and glad to know that spring is surely on its way!

Steve Emery said...

Beautiful series of photos, and a great post. I'm always awed that inside those tiny, soft bodies is a skeleton, with tiny finger bones and ribs... The world is wondrous strange.