Officially, spring does not actually begin until the Vernal Equinox on March 20. However, there are many signs of spring popping up all over the Washington DC region. The cheery blooms of the forsythia, crocus, and daffodils can be seen in neighborhoods across our area. But what gets me excited is the beginning of herpetological spring – when the spotted salamanders, wood frogs, and spring peepers begin to emerge.
Most of the year, spotted salamanders and wood frogs remain hidden from view buried under ground or hiding under fallen leaves in the forest floor. But once a year in late February, March, and early April, we have a chance to actually see these awesome amphibians – and not just one or two, but lots of them all at once!
Thousands of spotted salamanders, wood frogs, and spring peepers all head for vernal pools at the same time. Vernal pools are ponds of water that dry out in the summer, so no fish can survive in them. These pools are crucial to the survival of many species of insects and animals, including many amphibians.
The salamanders and frogs lay millions of jelly-like eggs in the vernal pools. Within a few weeks or so, the eggs hatch into larvae, or tadpoles. The tadpoles go through metamorphosis fairly quickly so they can leave the water before the pool dries up. The froglets and tiny salamanders emerge from the water and almost immediately disappear into the surrounding woodlands – not to be seen again until next year.
So, last weekend I convinced my friend Jon Kerr to head out with me to some of my FAVORITE froggy places. A very strange vernal pool can be found in Fairfax County at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. This “vernal pool” is actually an abandoned swimming pool that was built using a natural spring as a source of water. Even though humans have long since abandoned it, the pool is now used by hundreds of wood frogs and spotted salamanders every year.
When we arrived, the place was hopping! With wood frogs that is! But there were no spotted salamanders to be found. They were probably still on their way – they just needed a rainy night to really get them going. We did, however, find a pinchy crayfish in the nearby spring seep.
Next, we headed for Eakin Park – one of my favorite places to be. You can sit and listen the amazing loud songs of the teeny Spring Peepers. This is my most favorite sound of spring – I LOVE this time of year!
Happy Herpetological Spring Everyone!