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Southern Ohio salamanders part 2

This is a discussion on Southern Ohio salamanders part 2 within the Field Herping Accounts forums, part of the Fieldwork / Fieldherping category; Ok so taking off from where my last post left off, fast forward to a week or so ago...by this ...

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Old 4th January 2008   #1 (permalink)
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Default Southern Ohio salamanders part 2

Ok so taking off from where my last post left off, fast forward to a week or so ago...by this time the winter freeze had officially set in and I had not been herping in over a couple of weeks which put me about on the brink of insanity. Mike, however, had been having a little bit of luck down in Ohio on some of the warmer days so we decided to give this winter herping thing another shot.

There is an isolated population of Spring Salamanders in southwestern Ohio that surprisingly are the Northern subspecies (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus porphyriticus). This is surprising because the nearest population of Spring Sals are in southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky and are Kentucky Spring Salamanders (like the one from my previous post). So isolated oddities like this always intrigue me and its proximity to my home state of Indiana (where I do nearly all of my field herping) also added an extra level of interest for me. Mike's field excursions in search of these salamanders had proven that they were seemingly quite uncommon at the few sites in southwestern Ohio where they were found (out of about 10 trips to the site, he had only ever found 2 salamanders, both during the spring in much better weather). So knowing all this we realized that finding adults was likely out of the question, but we might at least find larvae and I was eager to see the habitat just for the sake of possibly identifying similar habitat in southeastern Indiana where they could occur. The past few days had hovered around freezing (with night temperatures below freezing) and snow flurries had made an appearance now and then, but on December 28th the temperatures would rise to about 50 with rain...so we decided that would be the day to give it a go. By the time I got to the site that morning, the temperature was just barely above freezing with some chilly rain falling and I began to wonder if the weather websites had steered me wrong. Mike soon arrived and we began working the small rocky stream, flipping rocks and closely examining the shallow pools for larvae. The stream, to me, looked no different than a number of rocky streams I had seen in Indiana and I was still perplexed as to why these salamanders would be here and not anywhere in the surrounding areas. It was however quite a beautiful area with waterfalls and limestone rocks full of fossils with rolling hills all around.

Click the image to open in full size.

After about an hour we still had not seen anything more than some Eurycea larvae (either cirrigera or longicauda). We had already passed both of the seeps in which Mike had found his Gyrinophilus and were now working our way further upstream. We got to yet another nice looking spring next to the creek and began lifting rocks and were surprised to see our first adult salamander, a Southern Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera). The next rock produced a gorgeous adult Eastern Red-backed Salamander (Plethodon cinereus).

Click the image to open in full size.

We suddenly took notice that the temperature had risen significantly and attributed the finds to this. It was likely in the high 40's by then and we became more hopeful that maybe it wasn't ridiculous to hope for Spring Salamanders. We continued to find more Redbacks and Two-lines here and there, but after another hour or so we were still coming up empty handed in the Gyrinophilus department. Mike told me about a good spring further up stream and we decided to go straight to that one in order to leave enough time to hit some more sites nearby for other species. We got to the spring and it was obvious that this was where the good habitat ended and was our final chance to see a Gyro. We quickly turned all of the rocks with no luck so I went to the final rock that sat right over the top of the spring, gave a drum roll as a joke, and lifted it to of course reveal nothing...but then I noticed something keeled break the surface of the water followed by an orangish shape moving around in the muddy spring water..."SPRING SAL!!!", I yelled. Mike thinking I was playing some kind of sick prank just laughed and decided to play along. I then dove my hand down into the spring seep and he began to take me a little more seriously...we were both practically jumping for joy when I opened my hand to reveal what we thought we had no chance of seeing.

Click the image to open in full size.

We took a long photo session with this beauty and released it right back where we found it. Spring Salamanders are fairly cold tolerant, but we surmised that this fellow may have been hanging out underground but the warm temperatures caused him to come up...and of course the first place he would surface would be at the mouth of a spring. It was interesting that we found him literally right where the spring bubbled up.

Having found our main target we hiked back to the cars and headed off for another site further east where Mike had been finding Streamside Salamanders, Ambystoma barbouri, for years. Streamside Salamanders are unique in their genus as they do not breed in woodland pools, but instead breed in small rocky streams. They are nearly physically identical to Small-mouthed Salamanders, Ambystoma texanum, but their habits and habitat is radically different. In the fall some salamanders (mostly males) begin moving down from the wooded hills and into the creeks and surrounding areas in preperation for breeding. They breed during the winter months and eggs are laid during February and March, when most other Ambystomids are just beginning to breed. I had found Streamside Salamanders in late December in southern Indiana the previous winter, but it was also nearly 20 degrees warmer. Nevertheless, we thought it might be worth a shot to see if any males were hanging out around the stream yet. We entered the stream at a small bridge and opted to head downstream and then check the area just upstream when we got back...long story short we flipped for a long time and found only a few Two-lined Salamanders so we headed back. It was getting dark and we were both cold, wet, and tired, but Mike wanted to flip a few rocks just upstream from the bridge just in case. Sure enough the last good looking rock produced this huge male barbouri.

Click the image to open in full size.

We laughed thinking that we could have saved about an hour and alot of chilled hands if we had simply checked upstream first, but oftentimes the extra effort put in to finding something makes it all the more worth it. Here is a parting shot of the pool we found this guy around (it was nearly dark so the shot is pretty bad).

Click the image to open in full size.

Well that does it for now...there is currently a good inch or two of snow on the ground outside but I am heading south back to college in a few days and hope to be met with warmer temps and less snow. The next warm spell we get with some rain will trigger the spring Ambystomid breeding season to kick in so I will hopefully have some more photos and narrative to post in the near future. To wrap up my posts, here is a species list with rough estimations of how many individuals of each species we saw over those two trips.

Species List:

Ambystoma barbouri (Streamside Salamander) -- 1 Adult
Desmognathus fuscus (Northern Dusky Salamander) -- 10+ Adult
Eurycea cirrigera (Southern Two-lined Salamander) -- 20+ Adult/40+ larvae
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus duryi (Kentucky Spring Salamander) -- 1 Adult/1 larvae
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus porphyriticus (Northern Spring Salamander) -- 1 Adult
Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens (Red-spotted Newt) -- 15+ Adult
Plethodon cinereus (Eastern Red-backed Salamander) -- 10+ Adult/2 Juvenile
Pseudotriton montanus diastictus (Midland Mud Salamander) -- 2 Adult/10+ larvae
Pseudotriton ruber ruber (Northern Red Salamander) -- 1 Adult/20+ larvae

-Andrew
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Old 5th January 2008   #2 (permalink)
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Nice work. Again great photos and accounts. I sent you a PM about field herping in this area (southern Ohio).
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Old 5th January 2008   #3 (permalink)
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Again, beautiful photos and an impressive list of species. I like the barbouri!
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