Many people associate crocuses and daffodils with the first signs of spring, but they are not the only life emerging from the thawing soil. After a few warm rains and temperatures over 40 degrees, water begins to accumulate in depressions forming seasonal (vernal) pools in the woods. These vernal pools are very important for our ecosystem because they provide the perfect habitat for a seldom seen group of amphibians. Salamanders!
As many of us are snuggling into bed on a warm and rainy spring night, salamanders and other amphibians are emerging from their underground homes for a few special weeks. It is a very exciting time for salmanders and nature nerds alike, it is called "the salamander migration." During this time salamanders are on the prowl to find that perfect mate or mates in this case. You can often find smaller species of salamanders hiding under rocks and logs throughout the spring and summer, but it is during the migration that you can witness the larger, more evasive species such as the spotted salamander and Jefferson salmander in large abundance. These salamanders can reach up to six inches in length! It is in the vernal pools that the salamanders gather in mating balls and where they lay their eggs. Other amphibians, such as wood frogs, spring peepers and bullfrogs, also use the vernal pools for egg laying. Vernal pools also provide food, water and shelter for the young amphibians and many other species. The amphibians also serve as a food source for other woodland animals, demonstrating the role they and the vernal pools play in the food web.
So, how do you get to witness this wonderful migration? On one of these warm rainy nights (over 40 degrees), slip into your rain gear, grab a flashlight and head out to the metro parks. During every rainy night between March and the beginning of April, the Brecksville Nature Center closes the road in which the salamanders are known to cross every year by the hundreds. You must be careful where you step and make sure to use your flashlight because, aside from some markings, the salamanders blend in with the pavement at night and can be easily stepped on and crushed. Be sure to visit their website prior to going out for their rules and regulations pertaining to "The Great Salamander Migration" by clicking here.
Salamanders and amphibians play another very important role in our ecosystem, they are unique in that they breathe through their skin! They absorb gases, chemicals and oxygen from their surrounding environment and are extemely susceptible to toxins and can easily dry out if they are away from water or moist soils. This makes them a very important indicator species for the environment in which they live as they are greatly affected by pollutants which can enter their environment through water systems, even from sources that are several miles away. This is one reason it is very important that we make sure that we minimize the pollutants that we put down our storm water drains, including things such as fertilizers and pesticides from our own lawns.
These important roles that salamanders play in our ecosystem is why their conservation is so important and it starts in our own backyards. Everything in nature is connected.