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Home > Magazine > Nature > Salamander Migration!

Salamander Migration!
March 13, 2012

[BUMP -- Last night, 3/12/12, was the year's first warm night rain, about 60F. Yeah, as everyone knows, it's been a low-snow season (but we made the best of it! right?). So I got Henry and neighbor Ben revved up on the possibility and we went out to see what we could see at 9:30pm. Chief OYB Assistant Robert met us at the nearby VanAtta Woods/Ted Black park and we went with raincoats and swampboots and flashlights to check things out in the rain and lightning. Right away, as we're tromping down the path: big Sally in the trail! Good omen. Then nothing for a half hour. We checked out a flowing overflow creek -- I doubted any chances there as "vernal pond" is the need -- flow is likely bad for delicate jellied sally egg-masses. First pond had big grassy margins: no luck there after we waded out to study the shallows. We decided to hike a ways to the pond where I'd seen them before. Lo and behold, there they were! By the score! Huge Spotted Salamanders on the march! They were clustered in the water, too, swirling around, partying. "Massive Sally score!" (Henry thought that line was funny.) Home by 10:30, kids very tired, but triumphant. I uploaded a couple little vids to YT:





[BUMP from 4/09] Here's a crazy thing: during the first warm rains of the year, the rains that melt the snow, the salamanders migrate at night to breed in vernal ponds.

Apparently they're out at night by the thousands scrambling around.

[UPDATE 4/1/09! I wondered about our early warm, hard rain that melted our foot of snow in February...did they come out then? So I went out during the next night rain on 3/10 and I saw one big Jefferson standing bold in the middle of a trail near a pond, but that's about all I saw. Then it got cold again. When it next got warm again a week later the family went out at night and looked: nothing. I forgot: they need a hard rain. I missed the next midnight rain but last night it was raining and 44degF, so I went out. The family stayed home with their doubts. I saw a big Spotted right away in the water! But it got away. In the next hour I saw a bunch of big and little Jefferson's plus some big gray unspotted ones---Jeff hybrids? They all were quick and got away. I was about ready to give up when I saw a HUGE Spotted swirl in some deeper water. I lunged in and snatched it up. I suppose you're not supposed to touch or disturb them, but they were too fast for the camera. And I wanted to show the kids. I figure some water and leaves in a bucket and they'll be fine out of the pond for a day. I'll put them back tonight. After catching the Biggie, I headed home on the trail, turning my lights to dim. After 100 yards, there it was! I saw another big Spotted standing boldly in the middle of the trail. I got a photo of him in place. What fun!]

They might even travel across snow to get to the ponds.

It's the one time of the year that there's a reasonable chance to get a sighting of one of the big, colorful breeds, like a Spotted or Tiger. ...Or maybe a hundred of them!

The rest of the year they leave quite deep underground and really don't come out.

(I guess that only the littler fellas live near the surface and can be found under logs and such.)

In Michigan the scramble usually happens in late March, I hear. But this year we've had weird weather. Who knows, maybe they've already done their thing.

The frogs and toads also come out in force.

I've never seen this migration, but I have seen some stiff-with-frost toads and frogs out and about during awkward times of the late winter.

Apparently some of these beasties can tolerate partial freezing---the only vertebrates that can.

In some places they close the roads to protect the sally migration. Or they have tubes installed under the roads. Or they have herb-club people out acting as crossing guards.

Amazing.

Check out the following sites for plenty of helpful tips. Then go take a look for yourself and report back!

www.artworking.com/salamander/index.htm

cttrips.blogspot.com/2006/04/one-night-during-salamander-migration.html

www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20090309/NEWS/903090385

www.caudata.org/forum/showthread.php?t=59676


The first 4 pics are from our Adventure. The next 4 are from other websites/blog migration reports as linked above. And the last 2 pics are also of "our" sallies...


Kids with the 2 sallies I found.


Bold sally on the trail.


The first of a few dozen big Spotteds we saw last night, 3/12/12, at 10pm, in 60F rain.


Toadums


Big Biggy


Scurrying...


Sally in the road, look out!


Setting free the bear.


The Big One back in the water.


Teenage Spotty back in his migration element.


Putting smaller Spotted back into the Swamp.

Reader Comments - Add Your Own Comment
JeffOYBmain - Williamston, MI, posted on Mar 11, 2009
UPDATE!

I saw a big migrating salamander!

I went out in the rain last night, 9pm, 3/10/09, and looked around in VanAtta Woods. 45degF. I waded in the shallows of the vernal ponds.

I saw a 7" Jefferson as I was tromping along a trail about 200 feet uphill from water.

He was going pretty fast. I had been searching for a half hour before spotting him. What a thrill!

A little while later I noticed 2 small Jeffersons and a wood frog sitting near a tree about 50 feet away from water. They were all just perched there, doing nothing. Pretty cute, though.

Later on I saw a worm scootching along under some leaves. I noticed him while walking along.

That's it!

Someday it would be great to see a bunch of Tigers or Spotteds, with their yellow colors and hugeness.

It's interesting that it's pretty easy to see living things at night in the rain.

I was using both a headlamp and a handlight. The combo seemed good, like it reduced shadows. After my handlight battery died I didn't see any more critters so who knows maybe using the right lights really helps detection.

It's supposed to get real cold again, 15degF.
Bittergranny - , posted on Mar 11, 2009
Thats cool - I heart the Van Atta woods. Almost as good as Germany Road. Is that the original Big Biggie? Out My Backdoor, I get to spot crack pipes, condoms and Kentucky Fried Chicken bones.