GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT apparently happened in my little back water garden not so long ago. (Um, I was not invited.) I know what went on, though, because I accidentally netted a whopping 16 spotted salamander egg masses—”caught” briefly while skimming leaves, then instantly released—each the work of a different female spotted salamander.
Yes, each female makes only one such mass; I have it on good authority from Charley Eiseman, author of the field guide “Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates” and the most fun person ever to take a walk with. But I digress. Today’s topic:
Guess I will soon be Aunty to a lot of little Sallys.
Unlike frog eggs, masses of salamander eggs are encased in a big blob of extra protective Jello; each egg isn’t just covered in a small bead of it (something Charley taught me last year). For example, some wood frog eggs are shown just below for comparison to the salamander eggs (above).
Truth be told, it wasn’t just a Girls’ Night Out but more like a full-on, coed rave. So says the University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web website, explaining (without using the word rave, exactly), that:
“Spotted salamanders begin migration to breeding ponds at night, during the first rain following the thaw of snow. Males respond more quickly to the rain and move faster than do the females… They also stay longer in the ponds than females do, probably to increase their chances of fertilizing more eggs each year. The number of males present in the breeding pools is greater than the number of females, so when the females arrive the males swim about vigorously, rubbing and nosing each other.
“Males produced blobs of sperm called spermatophores (up to 80 per male), and the females take these spermatophores into their bodies to fertilize their eggs. Each male may fertilize several females, and each female may take up spermatophores from several males.
“Male spotted salamanders may compete with other males for the chance to fertilize females. They push other males away from females, produce as many spermatophores as they can, and sometimes cover other males’ spermatophores with their own.”
Growing up into an adult (above) takes considerable time, Animal Diversity Web explains: From the eggs laid in bodies of water that do not contain fish, so those predators are smartly avoided, the aquatic larvae with “feathery gills and only their front legs present” hatch 4-7 weeks later that “feed and grow in the water, and then metamorphose into an juvenile form with lungs and strong legs. Juveniles live on land, and after 2-3 years they mature into adults that can reproduce.” The time from larvae to juvenile? From 2-4 months.
And how about this, from Mass Audubon:
“This salamander can grow up to 9 inches long and live for more than 20 years.”
Want to learn more about identifying eggs you may see floating in water? I found a handy-dandy guide to amphibian egg ID online, at least for my region, created by Karen Ceballos, formerly of the New York Master Naturalist Program, Cornell Department of Natural Resources. I suspect a Google search can land you one of your own, if you are not in the Northeast. Needless to say: except when inadvertently disturbed such as by my net for a half a minute, admire but don’t disturb such miracles-in-progress.