"peeper hunting" mostly salamanders

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"peeper hunting" mostly salamanders

Post by NACairns » April 10th, 2014, 6:00 pm

I work on spring peepers, specifically looking at the evolution of reproductive isolation between the different lineages. It is a great project and one of the best parts of any herp work is the field trips and I was lucky enough to go on a little collecting trip last week to Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. I was initially going to sample in Ohio but the total area was a bit beyond my time constraints.
After driving down from Canada, the first day of the trip was set to be a pretty interesting one. Jason B had generously offered show me the ropes locally (not to mention salamanders) so I was excited for the advice and capable company. In Lexington KY, I met up with Jason and we headed south to a site he knew contained some interesting species. With persistent rain and warm temperatures we appeared to be in good sted for a heavy amphibian day. Consistent with that thesis, within 45 seconds of arriving at the stream central to the site we had our first two salamanders.
Eurycea bislineata (larval) Image

Ambystoma barbouri (threat display)

The streamside salamanders were plentiful with brooding females and a number of males as well.
Ambystoma barbouri (eggs) Image
Handsome salamanders with a bit of a Churchillian profile Image

There were also a number of Ortmann's Mudbugs
Cambarus ortmanni Image

Up from the stream we (Jason) uncovered a few beautiful little ravine salamanders. These are a very cool little species. I would like to know a bit more about their ecology.
Plethodon richmondi Image

And a northern zigzag.
Plethodon dorsalis Image

That was the last sighting for the first site, amazing diversity per unit effort and I couldn’t wait to get to the next site. We packed back in the car, heading further south to search for a few habitat limited species.
Upon arriving at a moss lined pond we hear several calling peepers a great sign but that joy was quickly overwhelmed when Jason found this before I had even gathered my recording equipment.
Hemidactylium scutatum Image

This was followed with another and another. Adults were under ever bit of cover and eggs were in every clump of moss.
Hemidactylium scutatum Image

Hemidactylium scutatum (regenerating tail) Image

Hemidactylium scutatum (eggs) Image

Then a few more familiar species made themselves available.
Ambystoma maculatum Image

Notophthalmus viridescens Image

We successfully collected a few peepers tissue samples so the day became an official success but we had only begun and headed into the bush to look for more critters. We headed towards some large sandstone cliffs with many cracks and fissures.
Habitat (crumby shot) Image

The Desmogs were the first to show themselves
Desmognathus monticola Image

Desmognathus fuscus Image

Then the green salamanders started, there were many of these guys. As expected, most were well guarded in their rock cracks but there were a few that near the entrances or even out in the open.
Aneides aeneus Image Image

We then finished up the night by collecting more peeper samples so a perfect day. I dropped Jason off and headed east.
The next day in the Red River Gorge area there wasn’t too much moving but there were a few good choruses of peepers and mountain chorus frogs.
Pseudacris brachyphona Image

Pseudacris brachyphona (eggs) Image

Pseudacris crucifer and P. brachyphona Image

There were also several vernal pools swarming with yellow spotted salamander larvae and newts.
Ambystoma maculatum (larvae) and Notophthalmus viridescens Image

The next day I had high hopes of a reptile but it was not to be, luckily the amphibians were there with a number of two lined and northern dusky salamanders.
Eurycea bislineata Image

Desmognathus fuscus Image

Anyone familiar with this fellow? I found the crayfish really interesting on this trip.

Further east near Leatherwood KY, I found a raucous peeper chorus which was had some cool bycatch species…
Hemidactylium scutatum Image

Anaxyrus americanus (amplexus) Image

Anaxyrus americanus (calling) Image

I then headed to Whitetop and Mount Rogers but was a bit disappointed in my timing; at altitude it was still too cold for much terrestrial activity and too dry at low altitude. So unfortunately no charismatic terrestrial Plethodons but there were a few cool Desmogs kicking about.

Desmognathus orestes (sorry for the quality) Image

And this tiny, pink, high altitude crayfish any ideas? Image
Luckily that night the skis opened up in western VA and brought out a number of peepers out on the road along with some cool salamanders.
A personal favorite was the red salamander, the intensity of the flailing of this stout little creature while trying to escape was very memorable.
Pseudotriton ruber Image
Plethodon cinereus Image
The rains continued which brought out more cool salamanders in eastern West Virginia.
Eurycea cirrigera Image
Desmognathus fuscus Image
The spring salamanders were spectacular and incredibly common moving across the road.
Gyrinophilus porphyriticus Image
Around Charlottesville VA, a few “common” species where the highlights.
Plethodon cinereus Image
Acris crepitans Image
Chelydra serpentina (fighting) Image
I didn’t see anything herp-wise on Skyline Drive but the views were worth it.
My final stop on this trip was near Bridgeport WV and it was the first time I have caught peepers in and around trout baring streams
Oncorhynchus mykiss Image
One last salamander before I head back north returning to winter.
Eurycea bislineata Image
And the reason for this whole trip.
Pseudacris crucifer Image
Now back in Ontario the peepers and boreal chorus frogs have just started, so the timing has worked out very well. That said, I have to get back down to the central Appalachians in the not so distant future because there is so much I still would like to see. Thanks to those that helped me out during this whirl wind trip.

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Re: "peeper hunting" mostly salamanders

Post by moloch » April 13th, 2014, 1:25 am

Looks like a great place for salamanders. Those Spring Salamanders were certainly stunning! I always like shots of Green as well.


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Re: "peeper hunting" mostly salamanders

Post by mikez » April 13th, 2014, 5:06 am

Good stuff. Love my peepers, glad someone is doing work with them.
I tried to show my kid a peeper in a swamp the other day. Fascinating how a deafening chorus can go silent and disappear in a second. He didn't have sit and wait patience and got frustrated searching in the grass. I had to stop him from shredding the tussocks. :lol: We never did find one. I told him we could use the birders' method of counting what we heard. He went to school and told his class he "found" about ten thousand frogs in one day. He was hurt went his story met with doubt from classmates and teachers. :(
I know how he feels. People been doubting my wild but true adventures since I was his size. ;)

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Re: "peeper hunting" mostly salamanders

Post by joeysgreen » April 14th, 2014, 7:53 pm

Thanks for sharing all those amphibians. I'm hoping for frogs to start calling soon.


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Re: "peeper hunting" mostly salamanders

Post by NACairns » April 15th, 2014, 4:51 pm

Thank you Gentlemen,
The spring salamander night was one of the most memorable of the trip, they where everywhere (I assumed trying to eat the many road active Eurycea) and I knew the greens would be a stunning species but the habitat adds so much to the experience.
In some places 10,000 doesn't seem like a stretch. Nothing in more frustrating that trying to find a peeper in the day time, searching every grass clump is the only way to go. Have you tried going back after dark? I commend you and your son for paying attention to those "common" species, there is still a lot to learn about them.
Good luck up in Edmonton, we're going here in eastern Ontario and I have good reports of P maculata back home in southern Saskie. You should follow shortly.
Happy herping,

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Re: "peeper hunting" mostly salamanders

Post by BDSkinner » April 17th, 2014, 8:23 pm

Fantastic post and happy to see you getting some work done. I've always liked this idea to use in the many salamander population here in the southern Appalachians. Those springs are stunning, its good to see other populations of Pseudotriton ruber as well. Ours here never dull in their coloration, so we get full grown adults with some brilliant color. Once again, thanks for taking me along, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


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Re: "peeper hunting" mostly salamanders

Post by NACairns » April 20th, 2014, 4:47 am

Thanks, that is very kind of you. The salamanders (especially the Desmogs and Eurycea) certainly cry out for phylogeographic and speciation work. I'm aware of a few studies (eg. genus level: Kozak et al. 2005 and species level: Crespi et al. 2003) but there is lots of space for work to be done.
The Pseudotriton ruber was a real treat but I only saw the one so I'd love to see some of the variability in this species. The Gyrinophilus were also amazing and I wish I had more time to set up shots to actually do them justice. Lack of time was the theme of the whole trip but I'll be back next year.

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