A Frog, a Toad, and a Salamander
By Ryan Reed
I recall the giddy excitement of encountering tiny forest critters as a young boy. Nothing stirs the imagination for all things wild like capturing and holding these harmless creatures of Penn’s Woods. My first experience holding a salamander was a red-backed variety I found near the outlet pipe of our spring at camp. “He” was so cute and docile. I also remember capturing a few slimy salamanders on another camping trip, learning first-hand why they are so named. Toads were easy to catch too, but frogs proved to be much more challenging. I recall a certain kinship with them as I happily set them free.
As my understanding of natural science deepened, it was intriguing to learn how our forest inhabitants like salamanders, frogs, and toads are regarded as indicators of forest health. If you find a forest rich with amphibian life, it is very likely that forest is healthy. If the forest is healthy, its water is clean. Amphibian-rich forests abound in Pennsylvania, and many of their wild lowlands boast an abundance of clean water in the form of vernal pools.
Vernal pools are seasonal pools that appear in the spring as the snow melts, and many of our forest dwellers depend on them. These pools almost always dry up in the summer, but this is of no consequence to vernal pool-dependent organisms because they only need them for a part of their lives.
April is a great month to observe vernal pools in the Pennsylvania Wilds, and logically, some of their most common tenants. You may hear their calls, see them jump, or spy them in a motionless state. But you are much more likely to see their eggs. Perhaps you’ve encountered them and not known what they are. Here are three of Pennsylvania’s most common, vernal pool-dependent amphibians and their egg masses.
Teaching a child to protect forests and vernal pools becomes much easier when you introduce them to new “friends” that live there. Won’t you consider introducing a child to a frog, a toad, or salamander?
To find out more about vernal pools in Pennsylvania, click here.
About the Author: Ryan Reed is an Environmental Education Specialist in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry. He possesses degrees in Wildlife and Fisheries Science and Wildlife Technology, while currently pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental Pollution Control. He has also worked for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and taught high school sciences for 11 years. He is especially interested in biodiversity and ecology. A lifelong hunting and fishing enthusiast, Ryan resides in Harrisburg, PA. This article was originally published the the DCNR Bureau of Forestry’s “Forest Fridays” e-newsletter.
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