The Early Spring Amphibians and Reptiles

Mid-March to mid-April finds many of the early spring amphibians and a few reptiles out and about in New Hampshire. Activity is especially rich around vernal pools (also known as spring ponds, ephemeral ponds, and other names). These ecological communities are rich in species diversity and several frogs and salamanders require or regularly use these areas for breeding.

The MOLE SALAMANDERS, including the spotted and Jefferson/blue-spotted complex are very early migrants and breeders. The Jeff/blue-spot types may migrate under the cover of darkness on humid nights in early to mid-March even without rain! Typically, they and the spotted salamanders emerge from their underground wintering sites, march down woodland slopes and reach their vernal pools to court and lay eggs.

A NOTE ON THE JEFFERSON AND BLUE-SPOTTED SALAMANDERS: Your field guide may indicate two or more separate species (Jefferson, blue-spotted, Tremblay's, and/or silvery salamanders). A great deal of confusion, analysis, and rethinking is going on with this impressive variation of forms and the current trend is to lump all the variations into the one name: the Jefferson/blue-spot complex. Until further notice, and for the purpose of the New Hampshire RAARP, we are not going to attempt to split populations of this/these salamanders. If you find a big, robust, mole salamander that doesn't have yellow spots on it this season, simply call it a member of the Jeff/blue-spot complex.

WOOD FROGS AND SPRING PEEPERS are also out in force in March and April. The wood frogs are abrupt breeders, appearing in vernal pools with the mole salamanders mentioned above. They remain in the ponds just a few days and then return quickly to their woodland haunts. Their quack-like advertisement calls do not carry well, but they will vocalize day and night at the height of their breeding season. Peepers are tiny mites that are difficult to find at best. Triangulation works best, with two or three people pointing their flashlights to where each thinks a single peeper might be. Begin your search where two or more beams cross.

As for early REPTILES, your best chances are to find the GARTER SNAKE and the SPOTTED TURTLE. Garter snakes will appear during sunny, warm days near houses (woodpiles) or on the forest floor (in sunny spots). Spotted turtles are in flooded meadows and swamps where skunk cabbage, alder shrubs, and tussock sedges are common. Many individuals are skittish, so scan with your binoculars for their heads sticking above water or for basking adults hauled out on shore or a log.

Other species may be found in March and April, especially if there is an early warming period.

What about larvae?
In a nutshell, don't worry about them. Many frog and salamander larvae are difficult to identify even in a laboratory. Photographs are just not acceptable though we would be glad to look at any you have. Feel free to report and describe any larvae you can confidently identify. Refer to the Keys to Larval Salamanders and Larval Frogs.

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