Small, Slimy Signs of Spring

The start of spring has brought swaths of yellow to the Nature Center--daffodils, forsythia, and the intrusively ubiquitous celandine all are in glorious bloom. Also, highly anticipated in the spring is the revival of Nanderwhere Pond, the Nature Center's largest standing body of water. Despite its surface stillness, the pond begins to seethe with internal life as the months get warmer. 

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Some of its first inhabitants are Spring Peepers, small frogs that, much like the robin, signal the beginning of spring with a song. These frogs spend most of their lives in the forest, but return to the ponds each year to mate and lay their eggs in water. These eggs will bring another coveted pond discovery . . . the tadpole. Tadpoles are small, orb-like and gooey, with a showy fin making up most of the body. If not consumed by a predator, they will eventually grow legs to assume their final frog form. In addition to Spring peepers, the Nature Center's ponds are home to green frogs, bull frogs, and wood frogs.

Salamanders are another common sight during the early spring. True to their name, meaning "both kinds of life," most amphibian species go through some form of an aquatic life stage. However, a salamander species commonly found at the Nature Center, the Eastern Red-Backed Salamander, skips this developmental stage entirely. 

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Red-Backed Salamanders will lay their eggs under dark, damp logs. These eggs then hatch and immediately become small salamanders, which must continue to reside in moist environments because they do not have lungs (they absorb oxygen through their skin). Red-Backed Salamanders love to eat worms and insects. With a little luck, these guys can be discovered under leaves or logs on a wet morning.

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Amphibians live alongside insects and crustaceans in Nanderwhere Pond. The pond, like a vernal pool (a body of water that cyclically dries up), has few large predators. This means that the defenseless fairy shrimp, a fish food delicacy, can makes its home at the Nature Center without fear.Fairy shrimp are as pretty as their name. They have eleven delicate sets of legs and swim upside down to filter feed on plant growth. Though defenseless in their adult form, fairy shrimp can form impenetrable egg structures called cysts. Cysts can last for years, and the shrimp will emerge only when conditions become satisfactory--for instance when a dried up pond refills. 


-Clio Walton, Environmental Educator