Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tiger of the Vernal Pool

Tiger of the Vernal Pool
The silent migration of early spring.

While toads and frogs make their presence known in early spring with their calls, salamanders are voiceless and very shy. Many species are only seen in any numbers in the early spring when the weather conditions are just right. During this time massive migrations of adult salamanders can be seen as they move from their winter hibernation grounds to bodies of water where they breed. Like all amphibians, salamanders must lay their eggs in water so the young can undergo metamorphosis. In the early spring, they make their way to ponds and vernal pools to mate and lay eggs, after which they return to a solitary lifestyle. Most salamanders are nocturnal and prefer to spend the daylight hours hiding under rocks and fallen trees, often nearby streams.
Many Ohio salamanders measure only a few inches in length, the tiger salamander is one of the few exceptions. They are the largest terrestrial salamander in Ohio, can grow to nearly 12 inches in length and can live 20 years! Tiger salamanders belong the family Ambystomatidae, commonly called the mole salamanders. Members of this family are large, fat bodied animals, which spend most of their lives underground. Unlike their lung less cousins, who breathe through their skin, mole salamanders have well- developed lungs. Other members of this family include: smallmouth salamander, Jefferson’s salamander, marbled, spotted and streamside salamanders. Mole salamanders are burrowers and prefer moist, sandy soils for their habitat. Although they are not common in Guernsey County, they can be found in the western and northwestern parts in Ohio where the soil is favorable.
One of the places to view salamanders in Ohio is a vernal pool. A vernal pool is an ephemeral wetland which fills with rainwater in the spring and slowly dries up as the summer season progresses. Because they only hold water part of the year and have low oxygen, the vernal pool does not host a population of fish, but instead provides a rich habitat for many other species, especially amphibians. Because vernal pools vary by size and location, each contains a unique variety of living things. Other residents include: insect larva, clams, snails, leaches and fairy shrimp. These animals not only share the vernal pool with our amphibians, but provide the young frogs and salamanders with an available food source. All vernal pool residents are uniquely adapted to living in this temporary ecosystem.
The populations of salamanders and most other amphibians have been steadily declining over the last decade. Loss of habitat, pollution and disease have dramatically reduced populations of many species significantly. Amphibians serve as environmental indicators, their presence or absence can determine the health of an ecosystem. They are also vital parts of the food chain and help control population of many pest insects. So, what can we do to help them? The most important thing we can do is support habitat conservation. Wetlands are vital to healthy amphibian populations as well as many other species. Conservation of these precious ecosystems is essential to both people and wildlife. Something else we can do is if you see amphibians on the road, try to move them off and avoid roads near wetlands on warm, rainy, spring nights when amphibians are migrating. Finally, if you find one of these animals, treat them kindly and leave them in the wild.

The tiger salamander is another reminder to me off all the amazing animals we share our world with, even if we don’t know it.
Joe Lehman

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