An Early Emergence

2018 started off with some intense weather fluctuations. By mid February we were seeing nights where the temperature would remain positive 5 degrees Celsius or more in the Hamilton-Wentworth Region. And some of these nights had large amounts of rainfall.

Although it was only February, I knew that this weather would bring out some early rising amphibians. Particularly the Ambystomid species (mole salamanders). So on February 19th, when the weather was just right, myself and my friend Billy Olds grabbed our flashlights and went out into the night to look for amphibians.

When we first arrived on location I was pretty confident that we would find at least 1 or 2 salamanders. But as we walked through the forest across an abundance of ice and snow and past vernal pools that were still completely frozen, that confidence started to diminish. We had even checked the pool where I often see Ambystoma maculatum (Spotted Salamanders) and Ambystma jeffersonianum x laterale (Jefferson x Blue-spotted Salamander - unisexual hybrids/complex) early in the year but it too was frozen.

However, I noticed while we were walking in that many of the hillsides were free of ice and snow. I suggested that we should be checking those for emerging salamanders rather than the vernal pools where the salamanders are ultimately headed. So we went off to do just that. While approaching one of the hillsides, we found our first salamander of 2018 trekking across the ice and snow.

She was a marvelous Spotted Salamander.
Ambystoma maculatum - Spotted Salamander. February 20th.

With our excitement we checked the remainder of the hillside but found no other salamanders. Now approaching 1:00am we decided to call it a night. But what happened next was spectacular.

As we got into the car to drive back I mentioned that we should keep an eye on the road because some salamanders may still be crossing. Less than two minutes later I rudely interrupted Billy mid-sentence by shouting "FOUND ONE!" with more excitement than I think either of us were ready for. That was because this salamander was a special salamander for both of us.. it was an endangered Ambystoma Jeffersonianum (Jefferson Salamander) and Billy's first ever look at one! They were my main target for the night and when I saw the amphibian running across the road in my high beams I just knew that it was what we had been looking for.

Ambystoma jeffersonianum - Jefferson Salamander. February 20th.

To make it even for significant, this individual was the most 'pure' looking Jefferson Salamander I had ever seen. Although I would need genetic testing done to determine what genes this individual carries, I would imagine it was jeffersonianum dominant solely based on its phenotypic traits.

I know this may be confusing and you're probably wondering what I'm talking about when I say 'pure' vs. hybrid and so forth. And that's because these salamanders are extremely complicated. Some of the mole salamanders here in Ontario are a genetic combination of multiple species of mole salamanders. They're referred to as unisexual, polyploid, hybrid salamanders. They are a group of all female salamanders that basically steal the sperm from male salamanders of other Ambystomid species to fertilize their own eggs which produce more unisexual (all female again) salamanders. This is a huge threat to the Jefferson Salamander in Ontario as the majority of the remaining populations are dominated by or completely overtaken by these hybridized unisexual salamanders. - If you want to learn more about this I encourage you to do further online research in to the matter. There are many great articles about it. Just be careful you don't get a headache as it can be a hard concept to wrap your head around!

Anyway, this salamander was the last we saw that night as we continued to drive back home. But of course we had spent some time watching it safely cross the road and climb over the snow and ice on the other side. During the process I was able to capture these photographs of it along the way.

Ambystoma jeffersonianum - Jefferson's Salamander. February 20th.

Ambystoma jeffersonianum - Jefferson's Salamander. February 20th.

After this night I wasn't really able to make it back outdoors to look fore more herp species until the end of the month as the weather dipped back down into the negative degrees. But stay tuned for when I release the next post about what I found during the last two days of February when temperatures rose to a high of 14 and 15 degrees Celsius!

I'm excited to share my adventures with everyone this year and hope you will enjoy reading about them.

And, as always, please feel free to leave a comment on my post or send me an email through my contact page. I will gladly answer all questions and comments to the best of my ability and would love to hear from you.

Until next time,

R.W.

Comments

  1. Looking forward to more adventures and new species man, great post!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Billy. Don’t worry, there will be many more!

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  2. Thanks for this. It has long been a ritual of mine to find salamanders under leaves and logs in the Springtime woodlots of Waterloo Region, an activity that I have begun sharing with my Grand-daughters....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I’m glad you liked it. I think that’s great you’re sharing it with your granddaughters! Some of my fondest memories of my grandfather are of him taking me out to find frogs and salamanders just like that.

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