Spring is in the air and baby animals abound in our State Parks. Look and listen for some of these young critters in our parks. Remember, it is best to watch them from a distance so you do not scare the young animal or its parent. If you see a young animal that looks like it is abandoned, please leave it be. It is most likely fine on its own or has a parent close by and waiting for you to back away. It is fun to explore and watch, but don’t stay in one spot too long so that the animals can go back to their daily activities.
Take time this spring to enjoy our State Parks little critters!
Thank you to all staff who contributed to this post.
As temperatures rise, spring rains roll in, and the ground thaws, the amphibians of New York are preparing themselves for a great migration. On the 10th of March, a group of about 30 volunteers congregated near Hop Field at Thacher State Park armed with flashlights and buckets. With great excitement they looked along the road edges for salamanders and frogs, hoping to help them cross the road as the amphibians migrated to woodland pools. Throughout most of the year, mole salamanders and woodland frogs spend their time burrowed under rocks and leaves on the forest floor, but each spring salamanders and frogs can migrate up to a quarter mile to woodland pools to breed. The mass migrations to the vernal pools occur during spring rainstorms with temperatures above 40 degrees.
The rain was intermittent that night, and although spring peepers and leopard frogs were escorted across the road, no salamanders were found. The migrations typically happen in late March and early April, so there is still hope! On nights when the conditions are right, many nature enthusiasts can be seen on roadways close to wetlands helping the amphibians safely cross the road. If you are interested in getting involved in preventing vehicle related deaths during these mass migrations, contact your local State Park or local DEC office. These organizations sometimes coordinate volunteers to come together on rainy nights to help salamanders cross busy roads. The more volunteers there are to help, the more amphibians will successfully breed! Before you help the amphibians, be sure to brush up on your identification! Here is a sampling of the native amphibians that you could see in New York.
The blue spotted salamander is black with pale blue flecks all over its body. It can grow from 3.5 to 5.5 inches long. They are frequently seen in woodlands.
Spotted Salamander Congress by Hannah Long, SCA Environmental Educator Member Thacher State Park, 2016
The spotted salamander is black and has yellow spots. It can grow up to 8 inches long. It is one of the most common salamanders in the area, and if you go out on a migration night there is a good chance that you will see it!
The Jefferson salamander is dark brown and has pale blue spots on its limbs and lower sides. The blue speckling is best seen on younger salamanders. It can crossbreed with the blue spotted salamander and usually grows to 4.5 to 7 inches long.
This red eft/ red spotted newt can secrete poisonous toxins. When it is on land in its juvenile stage, it is orange. However, in its aquatic adult stage it is an olive brown color and has a wide paddle like tail.
The wood frog has an extremely high freeze tolerance and can live in a variety of habitats including forests, tundra, and bogs. It has the nickname “Lone Ranger” because the coloration on its face resembles a mask. Last year a bill was proposed by a class of 3rd graders to declare the wood frog the State Amphibian of New York. To see the bill’s progress check out this website.
The spring peeper has large vocal sacs that it uses to create high pitched tones during the spring mating season. It typically grows to about one inch long and has a dark X marking on its back. Listen to the call of a male spring peeper.
The leopard frog gets its name from the irregularly shaped dark patches on its legs and back and can grow to be 3 to 5 inches long. They were once the most abundant frog species in North America, but they suffered large population declines in the 1970s.
“Salamander Migration Extraordinaire” Check out this naturalist’s blog post that has videos of spotted salamanders and Jefferson salamanders migrating to a vernal pool. There is amazing underwater footage of the salamanders at the breeding site!
Check out this video of Ranger Eric Powers from Your Connection to Nature to learn more information about vernal ponds and the animals that rely on them!
Post written by: Emily Crampe, SCA Member, Thacher State Park
As the largest salamander in the Western hemisphere, you wouldn’t think that hellbenders could easily slip under the radar. However, these well-camouflaged, aquatic creatures are rarely seen, and due to loss of suitable habitat, they are being seen with increasing rarity.
In New York, hellbender salamanders live exclusively in the Susquehanna and Allegheny river drainages, including their associated tributaries. Numbers are declining in both of these ranges, particularly in the former, where hellbenders are all but extirpated. A “hellbender head-start program” has focused on the Allegany Region, where earlier this year a number of captive-raised hellbenders were released into the park’s streams. The captive-rearing program has been a collaboration between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Bronx Zoo, the Buffalo Zoo, the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY, and the Seneca Nation of Indians. More information on that project can be found here.
Check out this cool video featuring awesome hellbender action produced by Freshwaters Illustrated, an organization which produces educational media about the life, study and conservation of freshwater ecosystems.
featured image is hellbender habitat in Allgany State Park, by Andrea M. Chaloux. Post by Paris Harper
Salamander migrations are annual events that happen within a very short time frame every year. Salamanders are cued to specific temperature, humidity, air pressure and light conditions which signal to them that it is safe to travel. This typically occurs on the first rainy night above 45°F in the late winter or early spring. Although the salamander migration often occurs on one big night, this year’s inconsistent weather led to a series of smaller salamander movements that were staggered across a few weeks.
Salamanders belong to the group of animals called amphibians, which all share the ability to breathe through their skin. For this reason their skin must remain damp at all times, which is why rainy conditions are necessary for any long-range movement across land.
When salamanders migrate, they are moving away from their overwintering spots in wooded upland areas to vernal pools in lowland areas and depressions. Vernal pools are temporary pools created by spring rain and snow melt that dry up by mid-summer. Predators like fish and turtles cannot live in vernal pools, and so they are a strategic habitat for salamanders to breed and lay their eggs.
Once they have arrived at the vernal pool, male salamanders perform courtship dances to attract mates. Once they have paired off, the males deposit sperm packets on the twigs and leaf litter in the pond, which the females pick up and use to fertilize their eggs, which are laid underwater in groups of 100-300. On the next warm, wet night the adults will relocate to their summer habitats – usually a cozy spot underneath a rock or log.
Salamanders are extremely vulnerable during migration events, especially when their routes require them to cross roads. Many State Parks organize volunteer groups to meet on these special nights to act as amphibian crossing-guards. A few weeks ago, some friends and I took a slow night drive on the county roads near Thacher State Park in Albany County to see if we could help any salamanders on their journey. We saw plenty of salamanders, and frogs, too!
featured image is a spotted salamander. Photos and post by Paris Harper
2014 is the Year of the Salamander! New York State Parks is coordinating with the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) to raise awareness of salamanders and aid in the effort to improve global salamander conservation, education, and research efforts.
Visit PARC online to learn more about this organization and about the Year of the Salamander, and visit our Facebook page each month for a blurb about salamanders in NYS.