Vernal Pool Life
These 30 week old Marbled larvae show all the signs that metamorphosis to land is well under way. The gular fold across the neck and and the more pronounced eye sockets are all more suited to a life on land. Within the month the gills will all but disappear and the larvae will leave their water home to a life on land, never to return to the water again. Pa. 5-19-23 [Ambystoma opacum]
One of the most handsome Marbled larva I have ever photographed. From the mottling on the side of the face to the gold dust flaking on the gills, and an over all beautiful lighter coloration than most Marbled larvae. In another month this 24 week old larva and others like it will be ready to metamorphosis and leave their watery home to a life on land. Pa. 5-9-23
Just a few weeks ago this pool was all but dried up and I feared the worst for the Salamander larvae in it, there are Jefferson, Spotted and Marbled here. After some recent rains the pool is now just about full and larvae were seen everywhere, rain just in the nick of time, what a wonderful sight! Pa. 5-9-23
It is wonderful to get out in nature and learn something new and I have learned a lot on this day. I have always thought that the coal region should be explored for amphibians, to see if these areas, once ravaged and dug, striped for coal long ago, not to mention the damage done to streams and water, are now possibly being used and holding populations of amphibians. I have noticed most of "coal holes" have water at the bottom of these holes or coal stripping's, and I have been very curious about these places. So yesterday was the start of much overdue exploring that I hope to do of these now reclaimed and grown over lands in my own back yard of Schuylkill County. At my very first stop at what was once a "test hole" for coal, I was very excited [I could not believe my eyes!] to see the water teaming with life, from tadpoles to Spotted Salamander egg masses. Most of the egg masses were out of water at this pool, as it was down 4 to 5 feet, thinking these eggs were no longer viable, again I leaned something new, even the egg masses far from water and looking very dried out, were still very much viable and alive as the embryos were seen moving inside the eggs. I rescued all the egg masses that I could find by putting them back in the water and I am sure they have hatched as they were fully developed. So lesson learned, egg masses out of water are not always dead, even eggs out of water for extended periods. Also what a wonderful discovered to find these coal mined lands can and are being used by amphibians, and to find out how resilient and adaptable these creature can be. I did see other deeper coal holes that I could never possibly reach also full of Spotted Salamander eggs and frogs of all kinds [unfortunately tires too]. So when driving through these regions and you think like I did, that there isn't any chance of these places and pools at the bottom of old abandoned mines and coal holes, holding life, think again! My wonder and admiration and respect for the natural world to over come all the damage that mankind has done and continues to do to our planet, is truly remarkable! Schuylkill County, Pa. 4-27-23
Another spring and another bad situation developing here in Pennsylvania. Very little spring rain and a winter with next to no snow leads to devastation like this. This is one of the few vernal pools that I know that contain Marbled, Jefferson, and Spotted larvae. In the small pools there are many large Marbled larvae, large for this time of year having hatched only some 12 weeks ago in early December. But remembering larvae metamorphosis speeds up when pools start to dry up and oxygen levels drop. They are developing fast and their lungs are functioning as they are coming to surface for frequent gulps of air, you can see their tiny ripples on the surface of the drying pools. They, the Marbled, stand a chance of completing their metamorphosis to land but the newly hatch Jefferson and Spotted [egg masses with embryos exposed to the air, [you could see the ready to hatch embryos moving inside their eggs] have no chance of surviving this year once again, unfortunately. Pa. 4-24-23
Male Red-Spotted Newt [Notophthalmus viridescens]. Tioga County, Pa. 4-3-23. Juvenile Red Spotted Newts spend up to five years on land and and are a orange color, this is called the eft stage. After five years they turn a brown color and enter pools never to return to the land again.
Female Eastern Fairy Shrimp [Eubranchipus vernalis] Showing eggs in her brood pouch. Tioga County, Pa. 4-3-23
Eye of the Eastern Fairy Shrimp [Eubranchipus vernalis]. Tioga County, Pa. 4-3-23. I like the way the left eye reflects in surface above.
Unknown Diving Beatle from Tioga County, Pa. 4-3-23. Notice the pocket of air he carries on his back for breathing underwater, amazing! [Dytiscus]
This Spotted Salamander embryo is approximately 14 says old now, in the embryonic stage and and looking from the top you can clearly see gill growth, eye development [even the outline of the eye socket or brow is becoming more pronounced and can be seen], the very beginnings of where balancers will be on the head. The small bud along the side further down the side from the gills is where the forelimb will be located. Pa. 4-3-23 [Ambystoma maculatum]
These Jefferson Salamander embryos are approximately 10 days old. You can see spin development and even ribs coming off the spin [egg on the right]. You can also notice see the head start to take shape and if you look close at the egg in the center you can just start to see the eyes. A truly remarkable process to witness. Pa. 4-3-23 [Ambystoma jeffersonianum]
Female Eastern Fairy Shrimp [Eubranchipus vernalis] Showing eggs in her brood pouch. Pa. 3-6-23. Fairy shrimp eggs are laid in vernal pools, but the eggs must fully dry out and then be inundate by water in order to hatch.
Female Eastern Fairy Shrimp [Eubranchipus vernalis], showing eggs in her brood pouch. Pa. 3-6-23
The elegance and beauty of Eastern Fairy Shrimp [Eubranchipus vernalis] . Pa. 3-6-23
A beautiful female Eastern Fairy Shrimp [Eubranchipus vernalis] notice her brood pouch is now full of eggs and is in constant motion [above and below], as this constant movement is a way of keeping the eggs oxygenated. Pa. 3-6-23.
Fairy Shrimp [Anostraca] with Marbled Salamander larvae.[Ambystoma opacum]. 2-10-23
Close up picture of a Fairy shrimp [Anostraca] with 10 week old Marbled salamander larva [Ambystoma opacum]. Pa. 2-10-23. You can see her brood pouch which appears empty, but if you look close you can just see her tiny eggs developing inside and it won't be too much longer that they will be more visible, as they grow in size.
10 week old Marbled Salamander larva [Ambystoma opacum] with Fairy Shrimp [Anostraca]. Pa. 2-10-23
Notice this Fairy Shrimp is carrying eggs in her brood pouch. Fairy Shrimp [Anostraca] are an important part of a healthy vernal pool ecosystem. Pa.. "They are crustaceans that live only in vernal pools and they filter bacteria, phytoplankton, protozoans and detritus. Female Fairy Shrimp produce several broods of encysted eggs which must dry and be re-submerged before they will hatch. The drought and cold resistant cyst can withstand ingestion by animals, may be blown by wind from a dry pool." From the excellent "Field Guide to the animals of Vernal pools by Leo P. Kenny And Matthew R. Burne. I always carry a copy with me in the field. Available through the Massachusetts Division of Fishers & Wildlife.
The amazing Fairy Shrimp [Anostraca]. Pa. 2-10-23. An excellent food source for many vernal pool creatures, including salamander larvae.