Springtime herping

Spring is finally here in Virginia. The grackles and robins have returned and the dark-eyed juncos have left. The insects are reemerging… and the reptiles and amphibians along with them! Spring is the best season to find amphibians, since the frogs call from their breeding sites and salamanders are out on almost every warm wet night. Depending on which species you want to find, though, you might have already missed their breeding congregations.

In the temperate U.S., several amphibian species breed very early in the spring (this year they were out in Blacksburg during a warm weekend in January and have come out in March as well). Wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus), Jefferson salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) and spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) are all known as “explosive breeders” because they breed very early in the breeding season in huge congregations by small ephemeral pools and wetlands. Their eggs and young develop quickly since the pools they are laid in will either be filled with more amphibian eggs soon or will dry up later in the season.

Spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), heralds of spring, will sing from March to April or May, depending on the weather. Green frogs (Lithobates clamitans) and bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus) don’t really start breeding until later in the spring. Most salamanders can be found any time of the year, but the wet weather during spring and fall is the most likely to bring them out from the leaf litter or burrows where they usually hide. Keeping this in mind, now is the time to go out, find and photograph native amphibians, or simply enjoy the sounds of frog choruses if you are so inclined.

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