While March can still bring snow and cold temperatures, it will also provide the first rites of spring.† When the air temperature first rises above 40į F and an extended rain begins in the afternoon and continues into the evening, its time to put on your raingear and visit the vernal pools in search of the spotted salamanders.† In the course of one evening, a good rain event in early March can result in hundreds, even thousands, of these large yellow-spotted mole salamanders traveling from the upland woods to these ephemeral water-filled basins for one night of mating frenzy.† Males will arrive hours before the females, writhing in masses of four to six or more, known as congresses. With the arrival of the females, the congresses break up, and the actual mating and egg laying will occur.† Often the rain event is not continuous over the evening, and the mating activities will halt, with the adults hiding under leaves until the next rain event occurs.† Two years ago, this event occurred February 26, while last year, with many vernal pools remaining dry from the winterís drought, the event never occurred.† The reason they breed so early in the season, is to enable the eggs to hatch, mature, and metamorphose into terrestrial juveniles before the vernal pools dry up.† This normally takes about three months.
About this same time, the wood frogs emerge and congregate in massive numbers at local pools and wetlands and will fill the air for several days with their duck-like calls.† Both the spotted salamander and wood frogs are known as explosive breeders, due to their massive, and short-term breeding period.† Look for their egg masses in tennis balled-shaped masses underwater.† The spotted salamander egg mass contains about 250 eggs, is often white-cloudy (not always), firm in the hand, with the peripheral individual eggs somewhat flattened, while the wood frog egg mass contains 500 or more eggs, is more often clear and more gelatinous, with the peripheral eggs retaining their spherical shape.†
As the calls of the wood frogs near their end, the spring peeper will begin its serenade.† Unlike the wood frog, the spring peeper is not an explosive breeder, with its mating call being heard over the next six or weeks.
One canít talk about March without commenting on the first spring ephemeral flowers.† I like to hike on my birthday (March 2) and search warm, southwestern-facing slopes in search of the first blooms of hepatica, bloodroot, spring beauties and trout lilies.†
Look out!† Spring is arriving.