Thursday, April 16, 2015

A slimy, scaly springtime

As the weather warms reptiles and amphibians are starting to emerge. Many amphibians reproduce immediately on the first few warm rainy nights in early April.

Spring Peepers are a tiny treefrog with an incredible voice - I've leaned down to a calling individual about a foot from my ear, and found it painfully loud! This night was quite cold to start, only warming up later. This little guy was our first amphibian of the night, and was completely immobile in the chilly temperatures.

The main appeal of looking for amphibians early in the spring is several species of salamander that are otherwise very rarely seen. Spotted Salamanders really stand out, even when underwater, with those neon yellow spots.

Two other species in the same genus are found locally - the Blue-spotted and Jefferson's Salamander. However, things aren't that simple as the parent species are often outnumbered by polyploid indivduals, with more copies of each chromosome (most animals, including humans, have 2 copies of each chromosome). These individuals incorporate genetic material from both species, but are stable populations, with little to no interbreeding with the parent species. These polyploids, which are almost always female, still need to breed with a male to lay eggs, but produce young using only their own chromosomes. A pretty crazy story for these unassuming little creatures!
In the photo above, the left individual looks more like a Blue-spotted, and the right more like a Jefferson's, but quite likely both are polyploid individuals.

This is another Jefferson-like individual. Jefferson's are endangered in Ontario, as they require intact forest which is increasingly rare in their Southern Ontario range.

Although Garter Snakes are very adaptable, they especially use worms and frogs for food, and so often become very active once the first warm, rainy weather hits.

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