I recently spent a week in Florida with my mom, plus several aunts and uncles. It was a hoot. The vacation was filled with sunshine, sandy beaches, fish tacos and fruity drinks. Plus, I visited a few amazing nature preserves. But I did have one concern — my frog and salamander eggs back here in Maine.
Well, I suppose they aren’t mine, exactly. It’s not my place to lord over nature. But the eggs are located in forest pools near my house. I watched them appear in great globular masses throughout April.
In nature, things can change so quickly. For a frog or salamander, a week is a long time. So my worry was what if all the eggs hatched before I had a chance to see them develop? Or worse — what if the pools dried up and the eggs shriveled and died?
As I watched Maine’s weather report from a sunny beach in Florida, I realized that wouldn’t be the case. A historic amount of rain was flooding the state. I could imagine my woodland pools overflowing. There was plenty of water for the amphibians.
Yet it wasn’t really just about the frog eggs. They represented a greater concern — that I’d miss some of the long-anticipated happenings of spring. Blooming starflowers and trilliums, unfurling ferns, returning warblers. After a long winter, I always enjoy watching the world wake up around my home. I take note of things in my nature journal. There’s the first robin pulling worms from the lawn, and there are the phoebes returning to build onto the nest under my porch.
Here’s where you tell me to stop whining. I was loafing about in the Sunshine State, for goodness sake, while it was raining buckets in Maine. But I think this goes to show just how much I love my home state, and how much I look forward to spring.
The beginning of May, before the armies of blackflies assemble, is one of my favorite times of year. The new leaves are bright green: “pickle green,” as my nieces would say. The days are growing long and the sunlight is strong.
Last year, I went on a walk on May 1, also known as May Day, Beltane or Calan Mai. Well, it was more of a backyard ramble. Highlights included blooming violets scattered across the forest floor, tiny fish swimming in a brook and a ruffed grouse drumming its wings. The experience flooded me with joy.
Maybe I’m partial to spring because my birthday is in May. My horoscope sign is Taurus, an earth sign. My birthstone is green. For a nature lover who spends a lot of time on the ground looking at mushrooms and flowers and bugs, it’s all quite fitting, don’t you think?
Upon returning from Florida, I decided I ought to visit those woodland pools I’d been worried about. To my delight, many of the egg masses remained, and some were in the process of hatching tadpoles. I watched as they wiggled about, exploring their watery domain filled with dead leaves and sunken branches.
I believe what I have in the pools are wood frog eggs and spotted salamander eggs, and that’s because I spent two rainy nights watching amphibians cross the road near my house this April. In early spring, when the temperature gets above 40 degrees on a rainy night, a number of amphibians instinctively migrate between wetland areas to breed. This phenomenon is called the “Big Night,” even though it happens a few times throughout the season.
I caught the tail end of the Big Night last year. On a dreary night in May, I left the house around 11 p.m. wearing a headlamp and pajamas. Though it was late in the season, I was overjoyed to find spotted salamanders and spring peepers crossing the road in the dark.
This year, I was more on top of things. As soon as the weather started to warm, I watched the forecast for rain. I found spotted salamanders on the move near my house as early as April 6. Patches of snow were still scattered throughout the forest at the time.
So how can you tell frog and salamander eggs apart? Well, it has to do with the jelly-like substance that surrounds the eggs. Frog eggs have just one protective transparent layer surrounding each egg. Meanwhile, salamander eggs have two protective layers: the layer that surrounds each egg, plus a layer that encases the whole cluster of eggs.
Wood frog eggs take between nine and 30 days to hatch, according to the National Wildlife Federation, so you can see why I was worried about missing it. Spotted salamander eggs take a bit longer, about six to eight weeks, according to a fact sheet by the Vernal Pool Association. And in the process, a symbiotic algae grows inside the eggs and turns them green.
So maybe I didn’t miss out on as much as I feared I would. Many of the eggs are still there. The ferns are unfurling, but they have a long way to go before they reach their full, feathery potential. Tree leaves are still pickle green, and many spring flowers, such as the celebrated lady’s slipper, have yet to appear. There’s a lot more spring to enjoy.