Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), photo by Brian Bastarache
Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum), photo by Brian Bastarache

Warm evening temperatures and steady rain on March 12th triggered the first spring-breeding amphibian movements of 2014 in southeastern Massachusetts.  Although some parts of the state still have some cold days, snowpack, and ice to work through, the onset of spring amphibian season is just around the corner.  With the arrival of 50-plus-degree days and 40-plus-degree nights with rain, breeding migrations of some of our favorite salamanders and frogs will be underway.

Spotted Salamanders, Jefferson Salamanders, Blue-spotted Salamanders, and Wood Frogs will be emerging from their forest retreats and piling into vernal pools to mate and deposit their eggs.  Spring Peepers, Pickerel Frogs, and Leopard Frogs will be chorusing in large, open wetlands.  Other frogs and salamanders will become active, moving about the landscape in preparation for their respective breeding periods that come a bit later in the spring. Many of these animals will need to cross fields, yards, and roadways to reach their destinations.  Not all will be successful.

For updates on amphibian activity across the state, please click here .

 

2014 Year of the Salamander Campaign

2014 is The Year of the Salamander, as designated by the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) and its partner organizations.  MassWildlife and the Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program (NHESP) are pleased to participate in this worldwide effort to promote salamander education, research, and conservation.  Please consider contributing to this cause during 2014 and beyond.  There are many ways to be involved!

Jefferson Salamanders are known to emerge from their winter quarters and migrate to vernal pools even before the ice melts, as this individual from Lee, MA demonstrated on 16 April 2013.
Jefferson Salamanders are known to emerge from their winter quarters and migrate to vernal pools even before the ice melts, as this individual from Lee, MA demonstrated on 16 April 2013.
A Spotted Salamander swims past two egg masses in a vernal pool in Westfield, MA on 15 April 2013.
A Spotted Salamander swims past two egg masses in a vernal pool in Westfield, MA on 15 April 2013.
A Jefferson Salamander begins the process of attaching her eggs to a submerged tree branch in a vernal pool in West Springfield, MA on 3 April 2013.
A Jefferson Salamander begins the process of attaching her eggs to a submerged tree branch in a vernal pool in West Springfield, MA on 3 April 2013.

Report Your Observations

NHESP Database.  The NHESP maintains the primary database for cataloguing observations of state-listed rare salamanders and other species of conservation interest in Massachusetts, which serve as the foundation for our conservation work across the state.  Please consider reporting your observations of Jefferson Salamander, Blue-spotted Salamander, Marbled Salamander, Four-toed Salamander, and Spring Salamander.  The NHESP is also interested in occurrences of leopard frogs in Massachusetts.  For information about how to report your observations to the NHESP, please click here.  

Massachusetts Herpetological Atlas.  Initiated by the Massachusetts Audubon Society and coordinated by personnel from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Mass Audubon, the MA Herp Atlas project involves volunteers across the state in field work to find, identify, and document the occurrence of amphibians and reptiles. Data collected as part of this project serve as a reference for evaluating future changes in amphibian and reptile distribution due to population declines, species recovery, or response to climate change.

Certify Vernal Pool Habitat.  Vernal pools are critical habitat resources for Massachusetts’ state-listed rare salamanders, among other amphibian and invertebrate species.  Vernal pool habitats that are “certified” in Massachusetts are afforded special regulatory protections that help to conserve salamanders and other animal populations throughout the Commonwealth.  Please click here for more information about how you can protect vernal pool habitats through the certification process.

Report Road Crossings.  Having to cross busy roads to reach their breeding habitats is one the biggest threats to the welfare of salamander and other species populations in Massachusetts.  Identifying crossing “hot spots” is the first step in proactively addressing this problem. Please consider reporting your observations of amphibians and reptiles crossing roads to the Linking Landscapes project.

Participate in Amphibian Migration Tracking. Are you interested in contributing to citizen science projects that track amphibian migrations throughout the country?  Check out the Orianne Society’s Snapshots in Time and UConn’s Amphibian Tracker 2014.

A Blue-spotted Salamander crosses a paved road in Northborough, MA during its annual breeding migration to a vernal pool on 3 April 2011.
A Blue-spotted Salamander crosses a paved road in Northborough, MA during its annual breeding migration to a vernal pool on 3 April 2011.

Educate Yourself and Others

Visit PARC’s 2014 Year of the Salamander Web Site.  PARC has created a web site dedicated to promoting the 2014 Year of the Salamander campaign.  Newsletters, calendars, contests, and even a special section on Outreach and Education are all part of this promotional campaign.

Review the NHESP Fact Sheets.  The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program has Fact Sheets for state-listed rare salamanders and other species.

Join the Vernal Pool Listserv.  The Vernal Pool Listserv provides a forum to discuss topics relating to vernal pools and vernal pool ecology. Discussion is encouraged about scientific research, on-going vernal pool education projects at the elementary through graduate school levels, and about the first Spotted Salamander sightings of spring, among other things.

Support the Vernal Pool Association. The Vernal Pool Association began in 1990 as an environmental outreach project at Reading Memorial High School, Reading, Massachusetts. It is now an independent group of individuals attempting to educate others about vernal pool ecology, the local environment, bio-diversity, and the protection of our resources.

Incorporate Salamander Migrations into Coursework.  The “Urban Lab” at the University of Connecticut has designed an Amphibian Migration Lesson Plan for high school science classes.

Sometimes salamander egg masses are easy to find, such as when Spotted Salamanders deposit their eggs communally.
Sometimes salamander egg masses are easy to find, such as when Spotted Salamanders deposit their eggs communally.
Other salamander egg masses are very difficult to find, such as those deposited by Blue-spotted Salamanders both in small numbers and in dark waters.
Other salamander egg masses are very difficult to find, such as those deposited by Blue-spotted Salamanders both in small numbers and in dark waters.

Amphibian Activity Updates

  • March 12: Spotted Salamander migrations reported in Marion and Holbrook.  Some Wood Frog movement reported, as well.  Substantial movements of Blue-Spotted Salamanders in Easton.
  • March 21: Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers active in New Bedford.  Shaded vernal pools still mostly frozen, but pools in open areas mostly thawed.  Terrestrial sightings of Four-toed Salamanders and a Marbled Salamander also reported in the area.
  • March 25: Snow and cold weather in the forecast for a few more days, but a string of warm days beginning Friday (3/28) is expected, including possible rain over the weekend!
  • March 28-30:  Wow, what a weekend!  Steady rain and nighttime temperatures in the 40’s triggered what will likely turn out to be the biggest vernal-pool amphibian migration of the year in the milder regions of Massachusetts.  Reports of Wood Frogs, Spotted Salamanders, Jefferson Salamanders, and Blue-spotted Salamanders migrating en masse popped up all weekend long on the Vernal Pool Listserv and elsewhere.  The biggest movements likely occurred in the southeastern part of the state, but migrating amphibians were also reported in southern Berkshire County, throughout the Connecticut River Valley (as far north as Deerfield), and portions of Middlesex County (including Groton, Concord, Lincoln, Lexington, Stoneham, Needham).  In most of those places, vernal pools were still frozen, with only some thawing at the edges affording the frogs and salamanders access to their breeding habitats.  Cooler regions of Massachusetts are still under some snow and ice, so there are still more amphibian migrations to come!

 

This Blue-spotted Salamander was observed on Friday night (3/28) migrating toward a swamp in Attleboro, marking a newly discovered population!
This Blue-spotted Salamander was observed on Friday night (3/28) migrating toward a swamp in Attleboro, marking a newly discovered population!
  • April 3-6:  In southeastern MA, vernal pools are ice-free!  Blue-spotted Salamander, Spotted Salamander, and Wood Frog egg-masses appearing in vernal pools monitored in Attleboro and Taunton.  A few Pickerel Frogs starting to call in Dartmouth.  Wood Frogs and Spring Peepers calling throughout most of the state.
  • April 7:  Jefferson Salamander egg masses observed by the dozens at a pool in Sunderland, despite significant ice remaining.  Jefferson Salamanders, Spotted Salamanders, and Wood Frogs moving into vernal pools in Williamsburg and Whately, also despite much ice cover.  Green Frogs and Bullfrogs making overland movements in Longmeadow (with Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs still calling in good numbers).  Still waiting for the first observations of leopard frog calling activity.

 

This male Jefferson Salamander was found on the bottom of a vernal pool in Sunderland approximately an hour after sunset on April 7th – poking his head out of the leaf litter, perhaps looking for another mating opportunity.
This male Jefferson Salamander was found on the bottom of a vernal pool in Sunderland approximately an hour after sunset on April 7th – poking his head out of the leaf litter, perhaps looking for another mating opportunity.