“Big Night” Coming This Weekend for Spotted Salamanders

Imagine having just one date a year.  It would be first date, Prom Night, honeymoon (and, perhaps, a later re-entry into the social whirl through a match on E-Harmony) concentrated into one brief blur.

That’s the life of the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum).  For many of them in Prince William County, their “big night” will be this Friday.

The salamanders have spent the winter in the forest under the leaves (and snow).  They spend almost all of their life in the woods, avoiding predators and feeding on earthworms and insects.

However, the warmer weather this week has initiated the salamander equivalent of “sap’s rising.”  The rains coming on Thursday/Friday will trigger mass migration to nearby wetlands.  In the pools of water, males will deposit spermataphore packets.  The females will collect one or more packets, lay fertilized eggs, and everyone will tromp back into the woods.  The eggs will hatch as the water warms up.  The larvae will grow into the next generation of spotted salamanders.

Of course, that happy ending comes only for a few.  Many larvae will become a meal for a fish, bullfrog, red-spotted newt or other predator.  Other larvae will die if the pool dries up.  If a car drives through the pool and squishes the inhabitants, splashes them onto dry land, or causes the pool to dry up quicker than the larvae can metamorphose into adult salamanders… we’ll lose this year’s crop.

We’re also losing our natural wildlife to poorly-planned wetlands “protection.”  Protecting just the water, with no woodland at the edge, is a salamander killer.  The salamanders need the wetland to breed, and the woods to feed.  A wetland with grass mowed to the edge offers no habitat for many woodland critters.

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