by Carl Strang
Now that Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh is full of water again after several months’ drying out, I am curious as to how fast its animal community will recover. Apart from simply observing what I can on the surface (waterfowl have been back, and last week there were a muskrat and a few singing western chorus frogs), my best tool is the amphibian trap.
Five traps placed around the marsh produced nothing for two days, and were absolutely clean, suggesting little or no activity around them. The third day brought the first capture.
I don’t believe this species could survive the marsh drying out, so this individual probably was a recent immigrant from the nearby stream.
Friday was the big day, however. The first three traps I checked were empty, but in the fourth I found these:
Prior to that moment, in two springs of trapping I had caught a grand total of one salamander. But that wasn’t all.
Most of these appeared to be males, but at least one appeared to be a female (proportionately shorter tail, with less tail fin, and much less swelling around the genital area). Furthermore, none of them had spot patterns matching the one I caught last year. With predatory insects diminished, this would seem to be a promising year for tadpole survival. A final observation as I released them was that they swim by folding their limbs against their bodies and propelling themselves entirely with their tails. This is interesting, given that they move about their terrestrial tunnels all the rest of the year with their legs.
Why this sudden success? Looking back, I suspect that in previous years I may have put the traps out too late, and the salamanders were done and gone. This year I got the traps out within days of the last ice melting away.