Sunday, September 15, 2013

Life at the Well

"Your eyes would be big too if Brian squeezed you!"
There is an artesian well head by our cabin porch which trickles slowly into a wet drainage, less than a foot wide, running for 10 feet before disappearing into the gravel bed of a dry runoff.  It was amazing to see how much life it can support.
Just after dark we began exploring the drainage.  Brian spotted a green frog, Lithobates clamitans, renamed from the old genus Rana simply to confuse me.  This is a large frog frequently mistaken for a bull frog.  The green frog has prominent ridges running down each side of its back which don't occur on the bull frog.  They both eat anything that will fit in their mouth while their tadpoles are vegans, living on water plants and algae.

Green frog - Note ridges along back from back of its eyes.
The green and bull frog are large and common enough to have their own hunting season.  Frog legs taste like chicken and when I was in school they tasted even better when you caught them yourself.  I am past the hunting stage and now just love to hear their songs.  The green frog call is as loud as a bull frog but quite distinctive.  It is a loud gravelly rasp, "explosive 'bong' that sounds like a loose banjo string."  I remember it by thinking it has a large "green" grasshopper stuck in its throat. A side-by-side comparison of their calls is on this MDC web page.
Nice frog legs!
Green frogs breed from April through June.  We found the result hiding quietly in the grass beside the drainage.  It had recently lost its tail and climbed out into the not so cold cruel world, relying on camouflage that was so effective that at first I couldn't find it to take the picture.
Find the little frog- Hint, you can click to enlarge
Juvenile- fingertip sized but the ridges already show up.
We also found several long-tailed salamanders, Eurycea longicauda, hiding under the rocks.  The color and spots are similar to a cave salamander but the long-tailed has a herringbone pattern along the tail in a side view.  They generally are found around the mouth of caves or around springs and forested areas.  The constant trickle from the artesian well, running in a shaded area nest to the woods fits its requirements.

Long-tailed salamander
"If I can't see you, you can't see me."  (note herringbone tail)
We also found a juvenile salamander, smaller and still equipped with the gills it will outgrow by adulthood when it will become more land based.  They will stay in the water until that time, living on mosquito and other water living larvae, aquatic bugs, water striders and what ever else washes in.

Juvenile salamander (cave?) with gills
Many of these frogs and salamanders reside in the ecotome, the area between two biomes, such as land and wetlands.  Some are purely aquatic as juveniles (think tadpole and gilled salamanders) and emerge to live on land.  A green frog generally will be around the shore where it can hop to safety although our specimen above had strayed from this safety.

So what besides constant moisture keeps so many aquatic species here?  Bugs - lots of bugs.  Brian set up his black light and within a few minutes we had a bed sheet full of insects including moths, beetles and other species.  Many are usually ground based and available for snacking until they were curious about the brightly lit sheet.

Party time at the Bull Mills Blacklight Bar

Short-legged water strider on surface
The well's little trickle of water was even home to this short-legged (or broad-shouldered) strider, of the Veliidae family.  They are predators, feasting on other surface dwelling arthropods, only to fall prey to salamanders.  Big salamanders eat little frogs, big frogs eat little salamanders.  This tells me that this is a microbiome, working just like it should, even in a little trickle of water.

Thanks to Brian Edmond, Michelle Bowe and their eye-level assistant Julian for the finds.

Coming soon- a beast of the wild prairie issues its raspy call heralding the end of summer.  What is it?

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