By Barbara Walvoord
Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for April 21-27, 2018
Snoopy thinks a “dark and stormy night” is the best setting for drama. But a warm, rainy spring night is the setting for an amazing drama in Lathrop’s vernal pools.
On one such spring night, hordes of 7-inch spotted salamanders emerge from underground hibernation in the forest. They begin a dangerous, life-or-death march to a vernal pool to mate and lay their eggs. Vernal pools dry up periodically, so they have no fish, which would otherwise eat all the salamander eggs. So it’s vernal pool or bust.
Predators’ talons, claws, and jaws snatch many of the marchers, but the rest keep going.
In the pool, a dozen or more aggressive males will form what scientists call a “congress,” swarming around in a seemingly directionless mass, shoving each other out of the way, chasing females, and releasing their sperm. (No insinuation about any other “congress” is here intended).
See amazing video at https://musicofnature.com/mary-holland/spotted-salamander/
When a lucky suitor finds a female, he nudges her. If she nudges back, he releases dozens of white sperm packets, not into her body, but attached to submerged leaves or twigs. Now, if she is true, and if no other male deposits sperm on top of the first suitor’s sperm, the female will take the male’s sperm into her own body to fertilize her eggs, which she deposits in gelatinous floating masses.
Then the adults return to dry land, leaving the kids to hatch, get lungs, crawl out into the forest before the pool dries up, avoid predators, catch spiders and worms, and find underground burrows.
Massachusetts protects vernal pools, and we can, too, by leaving them alone, and avoiding pesticides that leach into them. Besides pools identified on east campus and Fitzgerald Lake trail maps (https://lathropland.wordpress.com/trail-map-easthampton/) , two other east campus vernal pools are located just off the far end of the fire lane and in the middle of the Mulberry Meadow.