Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Michigan Begins to Wake from it's Winter Slumber

After returning from a week long trip to Florida; while I'll post about soon, signs of spring are beginning to show in Michigan. Temperatures over the weekend were in the high 50s and on Sunday night some rains moved through the lower peninsula. Though it wasn't heavy enough for big migrations, I met Jason Folt in the central lower peninsula for a night of poking around to see if anything was out and moving. After a quick look through the Michigan gazetteer and a look at the radar, we set out for the night. We had two companions for the night, Cid and Joy. Here's where Cid spent the majority of the night, eagerly watching the road between Jason and I around the center console.

The weather was fairly drizzly at first, but the rain intensifies as the night went on. We stopped at a few roadside pools to see if anything had moved in, but all of the ones we stopped at we're still frozen. We figured that if we did find any salamanders, it would where one was crossing a road. As we turned down a road, Jason spotted this sluggish blue-spotted thing out for a stroll.

Unisexual Hybrid Salamander - Ambystoma sp.

This little thing was extremely cold and made a slow exit off the road after we snapped a few voucher photos. We were on the board. We drove on in hopes of seeing several more out on the move, but the next few hours spent stopping for the occasional leaf which looked strikingly like a tiger salamander, our target species. A jaunt down a road which has a construction sign which read "Road Closed Ahead" turned to be quite treacherous as the snow melt had made the dirt road a quicksand pit. We pressed on through on and off rain and decided to throw in the towel and drive back to our rendezvous point where I had left my car. As we were passing through an open agricultural area at around 2:15 AM, we noticed movement ahead of us on the road.

We had hit paydirt, this lovely tiger salamander was making his way across the road. There was quite a bit of excitement outside of the car after since driving several hours with only a blue-spot thing to show for had been the way the night was going to end. The interesting thing about this salamander is that is was found crossing a road through an agricultural area of the corn desert of the southern lower peninsula.

Eastern Tiger Salamander - Ambystoma tigrinum tigrinum

Throughout their range, tiger salamanders are known to inhabit some dry, harsh environments. The grasslands of the Great Plains, the deserts of Arizona & New Mexico, and the corn deserts of the Midwest. The amount of land that has been cleared for agricultural operations in the Midwest has created vast areas of open land with low moisture, high temperatures, and high erodibility. This has created a man-made "desert" which tigers have been able to survive in just like they have elsewhere in their range. It seems that the tiger salamanders which are found in these areas are utilizing cattle ponds for breeding sites. The large size of the larva of this species makes them more adept at surviving in aquatic environments where small fish species are found. In some cases this specie may exhibit neoteny, especially in environments with low moisture availability. In any case, this salamander was a wonderful way to open the spring in Michigan. Stay tuned for more amphibian expeditions in the coming weeks.

1 comment:

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