Monday, May 27, 2013

Nature Notes: Beauty and a Beast

For Nature Notes this week, I went looking for a beauty. What I found was a beast.

I planted a waterlily about three weeks ago. It seemed like something should be showing by now, so I took a walk down to the pond to see.


The bramble berries and fragrant honeysuckle were in bloom, and the light on the water made me feel as if I were stepping into an impressionist painting. But there was no sign of the waterlily.  It should have been right here:


Nada. I suspect I would have done just as well had I tied a rock to my ten-dollar bill and sunk that in there instead.

The lizard tails look happy, though, and there's no sign of dodder. (Remember that? The Attack of the Vampires?) The Hubby is waging a valiant and fairly successful war against the dodder, armed with only a weed torch and a lot of determination.

I had been putting off visiting the pond. I knew a neighbor's exterminator had rinsed equipment in it, and I feared the worst for the wildlife within. There are far fewer frogs than usual, but the water is still teeming with life. In fact I saw two things I'd never seen before:

One, this little beetle. It is about an inch long, and I'd swear it had a tiny boat motor attached to its back end. It was going at least a foot per second, and it caused an amazing amount of turbulence in all directions:


 Looking more closely into the water, I was at first thrilled to see what seemed to be very large tadpoles...but...with...fins?? Frilly legs?? OMG! Mutant frogs! WTF!


So I hustled back to the house for a zoom lens and a polarizing filter and came back for a closer look:


It took most of the afternoon on Google to figure it out, but these are definitely larval salamanders. Those frills are external gills. Count the toes...


Larval salamanders are difficult to identify, but two kinds have only four toes on the rear feet, the common mudpuppy and the rarely seen four-toed salamander. Mudpuppies live their whole lives in the water, never lose those gills, and get very big and slimy. Fortunately, I'm pretty sure from this guide that we're looking at the cute little four-toed ones that eventually leave the pond. We have seen spotted salamander adults around the place, though, so if these babies grow a fifth rear toe they're probably those.

And there's more good news. Salamanders are extremely sensitive to pollution and pesticide. So if they're still alive in there, the pond must be at least relatively OK. The missing frogs remain a mystery.


Click here to visit Michelle's site, Rambling Woods, and see more Nature Notes


EG CameraGirl said...

I'm so glad to hear there's life in your pond! I was worried after your post last week.

Karen said...

Such lovely photos of your pond. I hope you can het shots of the salamander when it leaves the water!

Daryl said...

lovely ... i enjoyed that walk

NatureFootstep said...

so interesting. Glad you got some shtots and that you figured out what species it was. :)

Carver said...

Magical shots of your pond. Great nature post.

TexWisGirl said...

so very cool!!! love the whirlpools, too.

eileeninmd said...

Ponds are such neat attractions for the wildlife. The salamanders are cool! Great shots!

simply bev said...

Very cool! Please post photos of the salamanders as they mature. Your pond is lovely!

MyMaracas said...

Bev - I'll try to follow their progress! I'd love to see what they turn into.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments and for stopping by!

Rambling Woods said...

I am thrilled to read this..... I learned something new.. Hugs... Michelle