Archive for March, 2010

Portrait of a Spotted Salamander

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

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(Yellow) Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Well, I guess it depends on your point of view.  From our viewpoint, these spotted salamanders are really cool critters.  So secretive in these parts that you rarely find them except during their annual spring norturnal mating orgy in the absolute worst of weather conditions, the improbabilty of encountering spotted salamanders definitely enhances the value of the moment.  With the series of snapshots in this posting, we present a portrait of a spotted salamander.  Note that each picture is hyperlinked to a larger sized image when clicked.

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Spotted Salamander Body

Quite a handsome specimen.  Check out the four digits on the front limbs and five on the back.  Also, note the two parallel rows of yellow spots along the length of the salamander’s body.

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Spotted Salamander

A real cutey as this critter mugs for the camera.  Every couple of minutes, the salamander slurps its tongue in and out faster than the photographer can click the camera.

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Spotted Salamander Profile

Augmenting the exquisite yellow dots painted in a parallel series along its dorsal surface, these salamanders have constellations of smaller blue-gray spots along their sides, under their chins and on their ventral surfaces.

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A Face That Only a Mother and Turtle Journal Could Love

We don’t know about this salamander’s mother, but we do know that Turtle Journal thinks this critter has quite a compelling portrait.

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Spotted Salamander: Up Close and Personal

Who could resist that enigmatic amphibian smile?

“Slithering Salamanders, Turtleman! Why Did the Spotted Salamander Cross the Road?”

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

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 Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

It’s ten o’clock at night, pitch black, with torrential downpours from a persistent coastal storm that has flooded shorelines from New Jersey to Massachusetts.  Why would any sane person venture into the swampy wetlands of SouthCoast Massachusetts to investigate what happens in the dark shadows of a rainy spring night?  Luckily, Turtle Journal needs not concern itself with sanity.  So, we pulled on our boots, slipped into our slickers, clicked on our headlamps and sloshed through the flooded wetlands … in search of loved crazed amphibians.

Why Did the Spotted Salamander Cross the Road?

Slipping and sliding through swampy backroads and bouncing through bottomless puddles, we reached an abandoned cranberry bog in Marion on the SouthCoast of Massachusetts.  Approaching the bog, we spied a spotted salamander that had gone “tharn” (a coined word from Watership Down to describe a creature frozen in place) in the middle of the road from the blaze of our headlights.  Why do they cross the road on these dark, rainy spring nights?  The simple answer is that they are impelled by biology to journey from their over-wintering sites to mating aggregations, called congresses, when the warm spring downpours arrive in late March or early April.

Slithering Salamanders!

Spotted salamanders are delightful critters.  Females larger than males; males faster than females.  Bright yellow spots running down their bodies in two parallel lines.  In the water they swim with grace, while landward they slither and waddle.

Releasing Spotted Salamanders

We couldn’t forget to mention the outrageous and cacophonous chorus of critters that bellowed for attention while accompanied by the steady, staccato cadence of torrential downpours.  We estimated this musical rendition at about 120 dB (decibels) loudness; that is, 5 db above a sandblaster and 5 dB below a pneumatic riveter.  Watching our new friends disappear into their mating pond already adorned with large egg sacs from several days (and nights) of stormy love proved a beautiful sight as they gracefully swam in seeming choreographic synchrony with Nature’s version of a Little Amphibian Night Music.

Spotted Turtles Lovin’ in the Rain

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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Mating Pair of Spotted Turtles (Male Left)

Pouring rain all day has left the South Coast of Massachusetts drowning in mud and puddles.  Turtle Journal explored wetlands in search of amphibians and reptiles that exploit these conditions for spring mating.  We found large eggs sacs from spotted salamaders in a nearby abandoned cranberry bog, and we heard a few spring peepers screaming for attention.  But the only loving we confirmed this morning was a mating pair of spotted turtles at Brainard Marsh off Buzzards Bay.

Spotted Turtles Lovin’ in the Rain 

This lovely pair included a female turtle, #13, that we have been tracking for several years with a new male partner who refused to show his face.   

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Female Spotted Turtle

Spotted turtle #13 above sports a large bulbous growth under her carapace in her fourth vertebral.  Like all spotted females, she has a colorful neck, washboard abs and a thin tail. 

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Male Spotted Turtle

In contrast, our male spotted turtle has a concavity in the middle of its abdominal plastron scutes, a thicker tail and drab coloring under his chin.

Spring Fling for Fiddlers

Monday, March 29th, 2010

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Closeup of a Male Fiddler Crab in Full Display 

Despite a temporary slump in temperatures, spring remains in the air of Outer Cape Cod. With a little midday sunshine, minds, hearts and antics of all Nature’s critters soon turn to love; that is, once they shake off the yawns of winter slumber.  Waking first along beaches and salt marshes of Wellfleet Bay are the comical, ever-ready cleanup crew: fiddler crabs.  They’re most amusing when coping with temperatures in the low- to mid-forties.  They stumble along with an uneasy balance as though a bit tipsy and, sure enough, they trip over on their backs, stagger to their feet again and struggle onward.

Spring Fling for Fiddlers

As we walked the shoreline of Paine Hollow this afternoon searching for a stranded dolphin that Sue Wieber Nourse had spotted from across the creek in Indian Neck, we saw fiddler crabs digging out with the receding tide.  While not yet in full mating display with males waving their enormous fiddles to entice passing females, male fiddler crabs poked their large claws out of their burrows, seemingly hoping to attract someone special.  After shooting a “my fiddle’s bigger than your fiddle” contest, Don Lewis caught a more pleasing encounter of a nubile female crab responding to the hopeful wave of a large male fiddle.

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Right Clawed Male Fiddler Crab

While a more amourous engagement may be expected later in the season as things both literally and figuratively warm up, this time the twosome strolled into the afternoon sun together as the female seemingly dosey doed (do-si-do’ed) under his large fiddle, and the two of them danced off into the marsh.

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Female Fiddler Crab

With a few more degrees of temperature and a little more sunlight, fiddler armies will soon be on the march at each low tide, gleening whatever organic residue they can acquire from the inter-tidal beach.  And before you know it, we’ll be watching the “Big Wave” sweep across the salt marsh as fiddles large and white sway in the rhythmic cadence of summer love.

Discovery of Endangered Kemp’s Ridley in Springtime Marsh of Outer Cape Cod

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

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Sue Wieber Nourse with Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Each year dozens of juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, one of the most endangered marine species in the world, get trapped in Cape Cod Bay and wash ashore cold stunned and near death in November and December.  Occasionally, a carcass gets trapped under ice or buried in salt marsh wrack, only to resurface in the spring thaw.

Sue Wieber Nourse Discovers Kemp’s Ridley Carcass

On March 18th, Sue Wieber Nourse of Turtle Journal spotted a Kemp’s ridley carcass in the salt marsh of the Fox Island Wildlife Management Area off Blackfish Creek in South Wellfleet on Outer Cape Cod.  The Turtle Journal team has been patrolling this Indian Neck salt marsh all winter because it had in the past yielded diamondback terrapins that had become trapped in lethal debris when returning to brumation in its salt marsh channels.  Luckily, this year we recorded no such deaths.

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Plastron of Kemp’s Ridley after Post Mortem Depredation

This juvenile Kemp’s ridley, estimated at approximately two years old, most likely emerged in 2007 from the beaches around Rancho Nuevo, Mexico.  Cold-stunned in Cape Cod Bay last November, it floated into the Blackfish Creek salt marsh system and became trapped in ice or thick wrack until the spring flood tides released it.  Predators had found this turtle as witnessed by the post mortem depredation of nearly every bit of soft tissue.

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Carapace of Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Carcass

The carapace (top shell) of the Kemp’s ridley measured approximately 22 cm straight line length.  We had to estimate the measurement because, as can be seen below, a large predator had gnawed the leading edge of the carapace.

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Post Mortem Depredation of Cold-Stunned Kemp’s Ridley

As with all sea turtles recovered on Cape Cod, we delivered the Kemp’s ridley carcass to Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary where Bob Prescott serves as the director and also doubles as the sea turtle rescue coordinator for the Commonwealth.

Don Lewis Releases Kemp’s Ridley into Nantucket Sound

To see a live Kemp’s ridley juvenile rescued from Cape Cod Bay and released into Nantucket Sound, see the Turtle Journal posting “Saving a Critically Endangered Sea Turtle” from September 2008.  The video clip above comes from that rescue.