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Spring Trip to Terra Alta with OI Naturalists

Spotted Salamander

Spotted Salamander

Oglebay Institute naturalists will be taking a weekend in early spring (between Feb. 16-Mar. 16, 2013–depending on weather) to visit our camp at Terra Alta, WV in search of mole salamanders and wood frogs.

Mole Salamanders, including the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) and the Jefferson salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonium), spend most of their lives underground, thus relatively little is known about their life histories. These are large-lunged salamanders (4.5-7.5 inches), much larger than the Allegheny dusky salamander common in Oglebay Park. If timed right, you can catch them traveling to temporary seasonal ponds (vernal pools) where they lay their eggs. They make this trip on nights the temperature rises above 50 degrees and rain melts the snow. They emerge from the ground and migrate en mass to the vernal pools. They are especially intolerant of changes in forest cover and only bury themselves in mature forests with vernal pools nearby. Luckily, we have two pools like this in close vicinity to OI’s mountain camp.

Wood frogs, on the other hand, are more visible throughout the year, and they are the first frogs to breed. They use the same pools as the mole salamanders, and are a good indicator of mole salamanders about to emerge. To find the two amphibians, one must hike along in the woods until hearing a sound similar to a duck quacking. That “quack” is actually a wood frog in a vernal pool. If you return at night, and are lucky, you may find many mole salamanders and frogs breeding.

Jefferson Salamander

Jefferson Salamander

The public is welcome to participate in this migration. But be warned — participants must be flexible in scheduling and  “hard core” campers and hikers! It is likely to be snowy, rainy and cold, and the camp will not be opened for the season yet. That means no running water, heat or prepared food. The Lodge at the camp will be open for sleeping, but participants will need to haul in their own water and bring their own food (which can be cooked using our propane range). Necessities for the trip include decent rain gear (jacket, pants, boots); multiple layers; a headlamp; a good sleeping bag; and good spirits!

The dates for this trip are EXTREMELY weather dependent. As such, any interested participants can be added to our email list and will be notified of the trip on the Monday before we leave. The trip is free except for organizing your own transportation and food, and is an uncommon adventure for even the most experienced naturalists. To RSVP, contact Jake Francis (jfrancis@oionline.com) or Greg Park at the Schrader Center at 304-242-6855.

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