Stepping as quietly as possible through the woodland, my heart quickened when I heard a particular chorus vibrating from the vernal pool.
Three days ago a thin layer of ice still covered half of it.
But I was happy to note that despite last week’s frigid nighttime temperatures, the wood frogs had been active.
While I stood and waited on Sunday, there’d been no movement or sound and I thought that the frogs had already moved on–mission accomplished. My ears and then my eyes knew differently today. I heard the quack of the males and then saw a number of heads on the water’s surface. Quickly, I snapped a photo–the little balls of light represent those precious heads.
They sensed my approach and began to make waves. Water rippled as they dove under the leaf cover below. And all was silent.
The community of egg masses, however, showed that their efforts continued to be fruitful.
In general, each mass laid by different females is attached to a twig or branch. They tend to take advantage of the same site for attachment and usually in a sunny, warm spot. Already, some floated to the surface. Eventually, they’ll gain a greenish tinge from algae, which actually helps to camouflage them. One of the many wonders is that any given mass may contain up to 1,000 eggs–from a two-to-three-inch frog.
A couple of masses were positioned independent of the rest, like this one–embraced in oak and maple leaves. It’s almost out of the water, though yesterday’s rain helped, but I questioned whether or not it will be viable.
Then again, will any of them? Last year, the pool dried up before the tadpoles reached maturity. And it isn’t just tadpoles that begin life in this pond. Notice the white, gelatinous masses below those of the wood frogs? Spotted salamanders had also returned to this small body of water.
They, too, attached clusters to vegetation. Smaller in number of individual eggs, salamanders lay 30-250 within each clear or opaque white mass. As they absorb water, the masses enlarge.
I walked around the pool looking for spermatophores produced by males and left on the leafy bottom, but saw none. Earlier today, my friend, JVP, and I walked along the Narrow Gauge trail and saw them in several pools. Unfortunately, though I had my camera in tow, I’d left the battery at home–still sitting on the charger. Oy vey!
As beech leaves continued to cling and blow in the slight breeze over the pool, I finally settled down at the edge and waited for action.
Moving with aquatic beetle speed, predaceous diving bugs swam about in constant motion.
Also calling this small pool home were numerous water boatmen.
But what I most wanted to see–the wood frogs themselves. Ever so slowly, they began to emerge from the leaf cover.
Once by the surface, they floated.
As long as I didn’t make any sudden moves, they stayed–showing off the dorsolateral ridges that run from the back of their eyes toward their hind legs.
Color variation was evident–from rusty browns to gray and tan.
Sometimes, several floated near each other–probably wishing I would leave so they could continue their serenade.
And then there were two that seemed intent upon one another.
I’m sure they spoke–probably cursing my presence.
With the flick of a frog leg . . .
they suddenly went their separate ways.
One couple, however, did hug. So that brings up another curious thing about wood frogs. Males cannot identify females by sight or sound, so he has to clasp the other frog. If the frog is thin, it’s either another male or a female that has already released her eggs–thus he’ll release it quickly. Yup–females are generally fatter because they carry eggs.
My eyes were as wide as the frogs I watched–I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing so many in this particular pool. And I was sure that due to the ice, all the action was completed a few days ago. But the multiple chortles I heard upon my initial approach created a racket today–and sounded, of course, like a bunch of mallards. I rejoiced over the sound of so many quacks.