Tag Archives: amphibians

Gray Treefrog © Allison Bell

Take 5: Gray Treefrogs

If you’ve been spending many of your pleasant summer evenings in a wooded area, perhaps sitting in your backyard or a local park, you may have heard a short, high-pitched trill pierce the stillness and thought, “What on Earth kind of bird is that?!” That’s no bird! It’s the Gray Treefrog.

These minute masters of camouflage clock in at just 1.25″–2.25″ in length, with the females often slightly larger than the males. They can change their color based on their environment, ranging from green to gray to brown, but young frogs are typically bright green.

Found everywhere in Massachusetts except the islands, Gray Treefrogs can be heard (but difficult to spot) around dusk from spring through summer as they look for mates and establish their territories.

Enjoy these five fabulous photos of Gray Treefrogs from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. Don’t forget to submit your own nature photography, as the 2020 contest is now open!

Gray Treefrog © Allison Bell
Gray Treefrog © Allison Bell
Gray Treefrog © Aimee Grace
Gray Treefrog © Aimee Grace
Gray Treefrog © Francis Morello
Gray Treefrog © Francis Morello
Gray Treefrog © Anne Whitaker
Gray Treefrog © Anne Whitaker
Gray Treefrog © Bryan Gammons
Gray Treefrog © Bryan Gammons
Wood Frog © Jane Parker

Take 5: Wonderful Wood Frogs

Warming spring days trigger amphibians like Wood Frogs and Spotted Salamanders to migrate to vernal pools to breed, often in great numbers, on the night of the first soaking rain above 45°F—a phenomenon known as “Big Night.”

Vernal pools are temporary, isolated ponds that form when spring rain and meltwater from ice and snow flood into woodland hollows and low meadows. These pools provide critical breeding habitat for certain amphibian and invertebrate species—since most vernal pools eventually dry up, they are inaccessible and inhospitable to predatory fish.

Wood Frogs are one of several species that rely on vernal pools to breed and reproduce. As you approach a vernal pool in early spring, you can hear a chorus of wood frogs “quacking” their breeding calls.

Learn more about vernal pools and their unique inhabitants—including a list of sanctuaries with vernal pools that you can visit—on our website and enjoy these five photos of wonderful Wood Frogs.

Wood Frog © Jane Parker
Wood Frog © Jane Parker
Wood Frog © Amanda De Rosa
Wood Frog © Amanda De Rosa
Wood Frog © Maureen Duffy
Wood Frog © Maureen Duffy
Wood Frog © Lucas Beaudette
Wood Frog © Lucas Beaudette
Wood Frog © Mass Audubon/Ryan Dorsey
Wood Frog © Mass Audubon/Ryan Dorsey
Spotted Salamander © Ryan Dorsey/Mass Audubon

Take 5: Salamander Swarm

Every year, warming spring days trigger amphibians like spotted salamanders and wood frogs to migrate en masse to vernal pools to breed on the night of the first soaking rain above 45°F—a phenomenon known as “Big Night.” This spectacular annual event is taking place all across Massachusetts.

Vernal pools are temporary, isolated ponds that form when spring rain and meltwater from ice and snow flood into woodland hollows and low meadows. These pools provide critical breeding habitat for certain amphibian and invertebrate species—since vernal pools eventually dry up, they are inaccessible and inhospitable to predatory fish.

To celebrate the return of spring and the mass migration now taking place all around us, here are five great photos of native salamanders. Note that not all salamanders migrate to and breed in vernal pools—the eastern red-backed salamander, for example, has no aquatic larval stage at all, so you’re most likely to find one under a moist, rotting log or rock while northern dusky salamanders are stream denizens and lay their eggs in flowing seeps in June or July.

Blue-spotted Salamander © Patrick Randall
Blue-spotted Salamander © Patrick Randall
Eastern Red-backed Salamander © Chris Liazos
Eastern Red-backed Salamander © Chris Liazos
Spotted Salamander © Ryan Dorsey/Mass Audubon
Spotted Salamander © Ryan Dorsey/Mass Audubon
Northern Dusky Salamander © Patrick Randall
Northern Dusky Salamander © Patrick Randall
Blue-spotted Salamander © Brendan Cramphorn
Blue-spotted Salamander © Brendan Cramphorn

Getting ready for The Big Night

Yellow-spottted salamanderSun is shining and birds are singing! You know what that means: spring is upon us, and some very important ecosystems are becoming active once again. Among the most critical and vulnerable of these ecosystems is the vernal pool.

What’s a Vernal Pool?
The quintessential vernal pool is an isolated, semi-permanent wetland that comes to life seasonally. These natural depressions fill up with water in the fall due to a rising water table, or fill with snowmelt and spring rains. Vernal pools can be found in meadows, floodplains, woodlands, and even sandplains across the state.

Vernal pools often freeze over during the winter, but as temperatures rise when spring approaches, a vernal pool becomes an active breeding zone for many creatures from invertebrates to amphibians and turtles.

Vernal pools are vulnerable to development. Even if a vernal pool itself is saved from destruction, changes in the surrounding upland may disrupt the habitat and life cycles of the resident species. The removal of the surrounding forest during the construction of houses, driveways, and lawns, for example, may degrade a nearby vernal pool to such an extent that the amphibian population is eliminated.

Home Sweet Vernal Pool
Vernal pools host several obligate species, or species that require the use of a vernal pool for either a portion or the entirety of their life cycle. Importantly, due to the temporary nature of this environment, vernal pools do not accomodate populations of fish, which would eat the eggs and other life stages of most vernal pool-related organisms.

New England is home to many easily recognizable obligate vernal pool species, including:

  • Salamanders Yellow-spotted, marbled, blue-spotted, and Jefferson salamanders rely on vernal pools for reproducing (critical for the latter three as they are rare, state-listed species). Most of these critters live in burrows on the forest floor, or underneath logs and rocks. On the first warm rainy nights in the spring, watch for salamanders crossing roads on their way to vernal pools.
  • Wood frogs During the first few weeks of the breeding season when the temperature hovers around 50°F, males join in a quacking chorus from vernal pools, calling out to potential mates. After mating, wood frogs return to their moist woodland habitat, where they spend the year. Their eggs hatch in the vernal pool, and the resulting tadpoles develop before following the adults upland.
  • Fairy shrimp These incredible creatures range in size from ½ inch to 1 ½ inches, swim upside down with 11 pairs of legs, and spend the entire year in vernal pools. They survive dry periods as eggs, which hatch when the pool refills  with water. Fairy shrimp need only a few weeks of water in the pool to complete their entire life cycle.

Experience Big Night
Every year, during one of the first warm, rainy nights of the spring season, wood frogs and salamanders begin the migration to vernal pools to breed. That evening is referred to as The Big Night.

Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries across the state celebrate the event with all sorts of wonderful programs throughout the month.

Had the chance to see it for yourself this year, or in years past? Tell us about it in the comments!

– by Emma Evans