This drama began in April when the ice started to go out. As always seems to be the case, it’s there one day and buddaboom, gone the next.
Official ice out is considered to be when you can navigate unimpeded from one end of a water body to the other. For this particular pool and its amphibian visitors that day was April 5 of this year.
Those who determined such were the wood frogs for on April 6, their “wruck, wruck” voices chorused . . .
until that is, I approached and then all went silent. This year, for the first in many, the W.F. Chorale had more voices than in the past for so many more had returned to the natal breeding ground than I can previously recall.
According to plan, dance cards were filled out and he, being much smaller than she, climbed atop to grasp her in what was known as amplexus.
By the next morning egg masses had been attached to vegetation and bubbled forth at the surface much like a bowl of tapioca. Slowly they began to absorb water, expanding in size day by day.
As is their custom, the egg masses created a hub about the size of an extra large truck tire for such is the frogs habit of laying and attaching these in the same area, colonial in nature.
Within each orb, life began to take form.
Their life was constantly at risk for other hungry beings knew of their location and paused pool side to consider the choicest treat.
Thrown into the mix were rainy days, which occurred with more frequency at the start of the season, thus providing hope that the water level would remain high for the duration of the story.
Almost two weeks after the adult wood frogs had finished calling and exited the pool to return to their upland habitat, where they spend fifty weeks each year, spotted salamanders paid a visit and the males deposited cauliflower-shaped spermatophores upon which they encouraged their lady friends to dance.
As is their custom, he led her to one of these sperm packets and she picked it up through her cloaca, the opening amphibians use for breeding, egg-laying and waste. She then fertilized the eggs internally.
Where the wood frog egg masses consist of a bunch of individual eggs all gathered together in a bumpy matrix numbering up to 1,500/group, salamander masses are enclosed in a gelatinous coating and consist of 50 to 250 individual eggs.
By the next week, tadpoles began to emerge and really it’s all about timing for a larval spotted salamander might feed on the larval frog, thus the latter are granted a brief reprieve in which to develop.
In the midst of it all, others also experience life in their larval form including mosquitoes who first wriggle through the water column and later tumble in their pupal form before hatching into their biting selves.
As the spotted salamander embryos grew . . .
so did the tadpoles.
Within two weeks, the salamanders bodies begin to take shape in their individual homes.
And then a week later, they began to emerge much like their frog counterparts.
Seven weeks after the ice officially went out, the pond teemed with life of those hoping to mature into the future.
Metamorphosis continued as young ones began to take on their adult forms.
But still, there were those with whom which to contend . . . including the larval form of predacious diving beetles.
It’s not just the predators, either, that need to be acknowledged for once the April rains ended, the dry season started and the water level drastically declined leaving stranded egg masses on the edge.
As a hope-filled human, I tried to intervene and moved some to deeper water.
Meanwhile, there were no signs of any salamanders, but the wood frogs did grow.
And fed voraciously upon the green alga that has a symbiotic relationship with developing eggs in one of those “I’ll feed your stomach if you’ll feed mine” manners.
With each new day, the tadpoles took on their adult features. But . . . where were the salamanders?
By today, June 12, despite yesterday’s downpour, the water had diminished significantly and still I hadn’t spotted any of the gilled beings.
And then, I did. They were more leaf-like in color and thus harder to see, but they were there, though hardly as abundant as the tadpoles.
It finally began to make sense, the number of eggs within a mass and the number of egg masses. Really, this pool could be considered significant by state standards for there were more than 40 wood frog masses and more than 20 spotted salamander egg masses, either of those a number to be considered in its own right, but . . . the pool isn’t natural. It was dug long ago to serve the purposes of the farm that once was.
To produce so many progeny makes sense for despite the fact that it seemed to be teeming with life, its own life is short lived. How many will actually hop or crawl out before the pool dries up?
I suppose to that end, it also made sense that some resorted to cannibalism.
What lightened the moment was when a Black and White Warbler stopped by to take a bath.
Drama plays out constantly and I’ve only covered a few snapshots of it . . . as the vernal pool turns.