So Many Quacks

Stepping as quietly as possible through the woodland, my heart quickened when I heard a particular chorus vibrating from the vernal pool.

v-ice 2

Three days ago a thin layer of ice still covered half of it.

v-ice 3

But I was happy to note that despite last week’s frigid nighttime temperatures, the wood frogs had been active.

v-many heads

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.

v-ripples

They sensed my approach and began to make waves. Water rippled as they dove under the leaf cover below. And all was silent.

v-eggs 3

The community of egg masses, however, showed that their efforts continued to be fruitful.

v-egg masses 2

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.

v-egg mass 1

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.

v-frog and sally eggs

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.

v-sally 3

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!

v-beech leaves

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.

v-diving beetle

Moving with aquatic beetle speed, predaceous diving bugs swam about in constant motion.

v-water boatman

Also calling this small pool home were numerous water boatmen.

v-peaking out:blending in

But what I most wanted to see–the wood frogs themselves. Ever so slowly, they began to emerge from the leaf cover.

v-frog 1

Once by the surface, they floated.

v-frog 5

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.

v-frog 4

Color variation was evident–from rusty browns to gray and tan.

v-frogs hanging

Sometimes, several floated near each other–probably wishing I would leave so they could continue their serenade.

v-2 frogs

And then there were two that seemed intent upon one another.

v-2 frogs 3

I’m sure they spoke–probably cursing my presence.

v-2 frogs 1

With the flick of a frog leg . . .

v-2 frogs depart

they suddenly went their separate ways.

v-love 1

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.

 

 

 

Observing the Cycle of Life

The Maine Master Naturalist class of 2015 graduated last night and for the second year in a row I had the privilege of helping students focus their eyes and develop a strong foundation about the natural communities of Maine. And now, they are ready to go forth and educate others.

In some ways, the year reminds me of life in a vernal pool.

And at the vernal pool I’ve been visiting on a regular basis since March, the transformation continues. I know I’ve included it in several (probably more than several) posts, but today seems like a good day to reflect upon its life cycle.

VP March 25

March 25: A snow-covered depression with some indecipherable tracks crisscrossing the surface.

VP April 4

April 4: Snow, water and slush. Something caused a disturbance.

VP April 12VP April 12 A

April 12: Freeze and thaw and freeze again, trapping newly fallen beech leaves.

VP April 21

April 21: Three days ago, this was still covered in slush. Suddenly, open water.

VP woodfrog eggs, April 21

April 21: The wood frogs didn’t waste any time.

VP April 24

April 24: More and more egg masses appear–attached to the branches or each other, as is their habit.

VP April 28

April 28: Though most are wood frog, there are some spotted salamander egg masses in the mix. All are taking on the green tinge from the algae with which they have a symbiotic relationship.

VP Predacious, April 28

April 28: Meanwhile, not even bothering to lurk in the shadows, a predaceous diving beetle swims about.

VP frog May 2

May 2: A well camouflaged wood frog still hopes for some action.

 VP wood frog, sally, May 4

May 4: Wood frog egg mass at top; spotted salamanders mass at bottom.

VP Babies May 4

May 4: Tadpoles at last.

Swarm

May 4: With communal living comes warmth.

VP, larvae, May 4

May 4: Mosquito and other larvae flip-flopping around.

VP, drying up, May 5

May 5: A sign that the pool is beginning to dry up–egg masses suspended in midair.

VP, life, May 5

May 5: Meanwhile, in the water, life continues. Tadpoles and others feed on the algae.

VP, May 12

May 12: Due to a lack of rain, the pool size decreases.

VP, lower, May 12

May 12: I can only hope that these blobs are just the remains and that most of the tadpoles have hatched.

VP, May 12, more life

May 12: A peek into the variety of life below the water.

May 14

May 14: Shrinking more and more.

VP, May 14, drying up

May 14: Some masses are left high and dry.

VP, May 14, tadpole:sally

May 14: A tadpole visits the salamander embryos.

VP, May 14, peanuts

May 14: Peanut shells. What? There hasn’t been much evidence of any person or critter visiting the pool . . .  until this.

vp 1

May 28: Almost completely dried up.

wet spot

May 28: The only wet spot left.

tadpoles

May 28: Tadpoles make the most of the wee bit of water.

tadpoles galore

May 28: The wet depression boils with action.

peanuts

May 28: And peanut shells are everywhere in the pool, but only one on the snowmobile trail. Another mystery.

With the end of class, eighteen new master naturalists are heading off into the woods to teach others. I hope the tadpoles have a chance to continue their development so that they, too, can hop away from the pool.

As for the vernal pool–vernal means spring and though spring isn’t over, unless we receive a substantial rainstorm, it has almost completed its cycle of life.

Thanks for wandering and wondering with me today.