So...I've talked about Cottonmouths, and Scarlet Kingsnakes to-date. Now I'm gonna continue my overview of our herping experience with the amphibians we encountered.
Our main focus during the trip was snakes (at least mine was :) ), but we did make sure to take a few stops that were specifically devoted to amphibians.
Above: habitat where we found the Lesser Siren and Dwarf Mudpuppy
Above: Jeff, Dave and Ed sifting through a dipnet haul for amphibians
Above: a Carpenter Frog (Lithobates=Rana virgatipes) found in the habitat pictured previously
In a previous post, I mentioned we visited a fish hatchery during this trip to the sandhills. We'd found a number of species there, including Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorus). The critters below were all found on hatchery grounds as well. The first one mentioned below was a new species for me: the Southern Cricket Frog (Acris gryllus). In our area of the Piedmont we have the Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans), not the southern. Back home in Wisconsin a particular subspecies of the Northern Cricket Frog (the Blanchard's Cricket Frog; Acris crepitans blanchardi) is state Endangered and rarely seen. Because it is so rare, little is known about its ecology in the Upper Midwest. Its declining throughout much of the midwest for reasons not entirely known. In fact, some research manuscripts have actually referred to the decline of this species as "enigmatic"(Lehtinen and Skinner, 2006). Its even believed that populations of the Southern Cricket Frog have been steadily declining, when compared to reports of their historic abudance. As summarized by Jensen (2005a) a 1929 report mentioned that Southern Cricket Frogs were amazingly abundant in the southeastern United states. Jensen's review outlines several recent studies from the late 1990's and early 2000s that have found the number of breeding populations has substantially decreased in areas where they were historically high.
Still, most folks down here don't really bat an eye at finding them....but being from an area where they are rare....I'm always excited to find one.
Note in the examples below the presence of a "triangle" mark between the eyes. This is diagnostic for members of the genus Acris.
Above: an adult Southern Cricket Frog (Acris gryllus) found at the hatchery.
Above: for comparison, a Southern Cricket Frog found the next day at a different location. Note the slightly different color pattern
Above: a Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans) that I captured in the Peidmont in 2010. It looks indistinguishable from the Southern Cricket Frog (for all practical purposes) and the two species are best differentiated by the breeding calls of the males.
Another hatchery inhabitant was the Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris). The Southern Toad is apparently common in many types of upland habitats in this region of the state. According to Jensen (2005) it is even found in agricultural fields. I'd actually seen this species before in Louisianna, but it was still nice to encounter one again! Southern Toads are not found in our part of the Piedmont. Instead we have the ubiquitous American Toad (Bufo americanus) and the less common Fowler's Toad (Bufo fowleri). Interestingly, the Southern Toad will apparently hybridize with the Fowler's Toad (pertinent literature reviewed by Jensen (2005b).
Above: A Southern Toad (Bufo terrestris) found at the hatchery.
I'll round this out with pictures of an Eastern Red-Spotted Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). Another very cool critter. This appears to be the terrestrial adult phase. This species has three phases: a fully aquatic adult that hangs out in emphemeral wetlands. It can remain aquatic indefinately, but should the wetland it calls home start to dry, it can become a terrestrial adult that lives on land.
There is also a terrestrial juvenile phase called a "red eft". Juvenile newts can remain aquatic until they become adults if the pond they live in does not dry. Should the pond begin to dry when the newt is still a juvenile, it will become a terrestrial "red eft" and live on land like many adult salamanders....and eventually become a terrestrial adult.
This is an amazing survival mechanism and really highlights the plasticity in life history strategies that salamanders are capable of (how many critters can switch between fully aquatic and fully terrestrial lifestyles so willy-nilly?).
This is a species I am very familiar with from Wisconsin. Still love seeing them, though.
Above: an terestrial phase adult Eastern Red-spot Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) found at the Hatchery.