Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team

Nighttime Vernal Pond Field Trips  2017

Photographs for this Nighttime Vernal Pond Field Trip series by Victoria Rolf unless otherwise acknowledged.


Here's a young and excited Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team volunteer and field tripper out on the town again for her second Nighttime Vernal Pond Field Trip this year. We got out of the car and the sounds of the Spring peepers dominated the air. When we arrived at the pool it was no longer possible to hear each other unless you were right alongside. She wore a hat trying to muffle the shrill mating calls of the Spring peepers on her tender young ears. The peepers seem to have taken over the pond and that was the predominant action of the night including a few paired up. We saw lots of egg masses and some Spotted salamanders hanging around on the bottom of the pool. We also heard a few Wood frogs but didn't see them, and a few slugs and bugs.

It was a nice night to be out for some fresh air. We are hoping to catch another night soon that's nice and wet and maybe we can see our little friends migrating back to their homes in the woods.

Spring peeper

Love the texture of this peeper. Quite fragile looking. Peepers are extremely small and difficult to see - about an inch long .

Spotted salamander

The only Spotted salamander we saw out of the vernal pond tonight did something surprising. It looked as if he was heading down to the pond, since the pond was less than two feet away and he was pointing that way. We must have unsettled him but he didn't just turn tail and run. Instead he slowly backed up following his tail right back into a hole under the edge of the rock. This was fascinating since he never looked back and just went backward. It was odd, that's all.

Seventh Nighttime Vernal Pond Field Trip - April 13, 2017 at 9:00 - 10:45 pm

A beautiful night out in the woods vernal ponding. Every night is so different and unpredictable. The Spring peepers were auricular above all else. You can only use deafening so many times. Only when you got right next to the pond could you hear the wood frogs calling, and they weren't as active as the night before. We saw peeper individuals and pairs everywhere. There were lots of Spotted salamanders laying on the bottom of the pool, and not as shy of the lights. The salamanders weren't congressing but there were some small pods along with some areas of fresh spermatophores that were super white scattered on the pond floor. We saw lots of salamander egg masses. No migrating sals but the next phase may be a migration back out to their woodland homes during the next rain. We went to see the Fairy shrimp too and they performed admirably for us - so beautiful to watch. The highlight may have been the herd of caddisfly larvae which you can kind of see below.

Caddisfly larvae on Spotted salamander egg mass

Can you see the egg mass on the bottom of the pool with things that look like three inch cinnamon sticks poking out? There are three on the top and two on the bottom. Well, the caddisfly larvae make a covering (in this case with leaves rolled up just like a straw) and live in these houses for protection. They are feeding on the egg mass. The sticks were just wiggling away while they were whittling away and the eggs. Later in their life cycle they emerge from the water and transform into a moth like flying insect. The Fairy shrimp just happen to be there. Spectacular world we live in!

Spring peeper

He is working hard to find a mate. Remember they are only about an inch long and they call for hours..for days. It must be extremely exhausting to make so much sound. Beautiful reddish coloring on the sides of this peeper when he is all puffed up.

Spring peepers

Peepers on the left has a male in the foreground and female toward the back...the male is calling.

Wood frog

This one below is super camouflaged. 

Sixth Nighttime Vernal Pond Field Trip - April 12, 2017 at 9:00 - 11:00 PM

Wow, what a BLAST! We had a great field trip last night to Ravenswood Park. We were lucky to have a couple lower school friends-of-nature along and it was a joy to watch. They sure have those young eagle eyes. One mom even spent about fifteen minutes observing the hitchhiking Spring peeper below, and she was just about in heaven. Everyone was marveled.

The youngsters were lucky enough to see and hear high-diving salamanders. If you want to know what that's all about check out the article by Nathan Mineo on our site at this link - High-diving salamanders.

A few spotted sals were seen migrating - even though it wasn't raining the ground was still wet from the afternoon rain. They won't migrate if the ground is dry, even if they have only feet to go. There were lots of peepers calling and breeding and they dominated the night air. The female Spring peeper is bigger and the male climbs on her back for the mating ride. We had a good Wood frog chorus but didn't see as many as last night. Lots of congressing sals in the pool. We saw spermatophores and eggs, Fairy shrimp bowl madness, Caddisfly larva, Red-backed salamander and a Predaceous diving beetle. What else do you need really?

Spotted salamander

Pregnant female to the right heading to the pond to deposit some eggs.

Migrating salamander rides free...

What a lovely treat watching this Spring peeper hitchin' a ride on down to the pond by way of Spotted salamander. Wicked cool series of seven photographs below.

Spotted salamander minding my own business photograph by Shay Cajolet

All aboard...Spring peeper climbing aboard Spotted salamander photograph by Shay Cajolet

Congress of Spotted salamanders - Crazy salamander swarms but they are not actually mating.  The males leave the whitish spermatophores in the vernal pond and the females swim over it and in the sperm goes. Thus fertilizing the eggs which she then lays in the pond to develop. The male Spotted salamanders congress and go through a mating dance. The males swim about nuzzling each other and coming to the surface for a gasp of air. This was the first time we had seen the big masses of them, sometimes numbering over fifty, all bunched up in piles. A congress is evidence of breeding activity.

Spotted salamander egg masses

We observed two different looking masses - one was very clear except the black center and the other entire mass was a cloudy white. Its intriguing that approximately twenty to twenty five percent of Spotted salamander egg masses are cloudy white...and no one knows why. It doesn't appear to have any relationship to survival rates and may be just an anomaly.

Spotted salamander egg mass photograph by Shay Cajolet

Predaceous diving beetle

Otherwise officially entitled Dytiscidae, they have an orange ring around the body, are about an inch long, and they bite! They can be a pretty fast swimmer in a vernal pond - especially when homing in on some prey. These poor fairy shrimp don't stand a chance. Look at the tail sticking out of its mouth. Yikes.

This absolutely splendid
Predaceous diving beetle eating Fairy shrimp photograph was taken by
Shay Cajolet during the field trip.

Fairy shrimp

Spring peeper

Peeper peeking out of a crevasse below -  little cutie.

Red-backed salamander

Wood frog

This Fairy shrimp photograph by Shay Cajolet

Fifth Nighttime Vernal Pond Field Trip - April 11, 2017 at 9:00 - 10:15 pm

Another foray into the woods of Ravenswood Park. We were fortunate to have long time Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team member and volunteer Nathan Mineo join us for a rare appearance - another true vernal pond expert. He wrote the thought-provoking Did You Know...? series of articles on our website. He also has an eagle eye for spotting the lovely camouflaged creatures we were in search of. Rick and Nathan spotted newts, our first big toad of the season, Spotted salamanders, Bull frog, Wood frogs, Spring peepers, leeches, and egg masses a plenty. My ears felt like I was sitting in the front row of an Alice Cooper concert. The chorus was quite unreal.

Wood frog

They were out tonight but doing a little more hiding under the pond brush. Got a couple lucky shots though.

It's interesting to watch the transition from night to night. There was a lot of water last week after the rains but its evaporating and there's so much going on in the pond now...

You can clearly see the dorsal ridges starting behind the pretty blue eyes and running to the legs. The Wood frogs blend in pretty good with the leaves, as you can see below. They can be orange, green, brown, or almost black. 

When the males are calling they make sort of a croaking sound that's completely different than the peepers.

Spring peepers

We had quite a peeping choir. Notice the males calling to the females. There were about a dozen peepers on one log, and many scattered about the vernal pond in pairs.

Spotted salamander spermatophore

This whitish spermatophore is a mass created by the male Spotted salamander. It sits on the vernal pond floor and the female squats over the spermatophore and takes up seminal fluid with her cloacal lips, and leaves behind the remaining gelatinous structure - hence continuing the cycle of reproduction.

Fourth Nighttime Vernal Pond Field Trip - April 9, 2017 at 9:00 - 10:15 PM

Another adventure out to the great wild yonder. A vernal pond is like a box of chocolates....

Upon arrival at the pond we could hear the army of Spring peepers and Wood frogs. Once we approached the pool the chorus was both deafening and beautiful. They are only about a half to an inch long fully grown but they make this incredibly loud peeeeep sound. We were right by briars in the water that must have been the motel for the Wood frogs. They were really quacking and chasing each other around. There were a few salamanders on the bottom of the pool that were trying to remain unseen. Nothing was migrating and Rick said it was because the ground wasn't wet and the salamanders will wait until it gets wet. We saw a couple of newts, caddisfly larva, leaches, Wood frog egg masses, and some slugs trolling along.

Spectacular male Spring peeper photograph by Christian Kishida

Spring peeper

This male Spring peeper is one of the many we heard tonight blowing out a deafening peeeeeep. Wonder how they make the sound? They squeeze their lungs with their nostrils and mouths shut and air flows over their vocal chords into their vocal sacs, which are located on the throat. They blow up like a balloon. This is how they call the females.

Wood frog

There are two wood frogs visible in this photograph. We heard a bunch croaking in the briars in the water and we saw them chasing each other around. There were some egg masses in the pool also. Really fun to hear them and see them so close en masse.


Once we identify this one we'll post more information.

Caddisfly larva

Caddisflies have aquatic larvae that can be found in vernal pools. They are moth-like insects that use silk, excreted from their salivary glands, to make a protective coating. In the photograph below, the caddisfly larva is using leaf litter to build its aquatic tubular home. One of our young vernal pond volunteers coined them tube dudes.


Another wonderful and rainy field trip. It thundered and rained until the field trip began and then it miraculously abated. The forecasted temperature was 50 degrees at 10 pm but it hovered around 45 degrees. It wasn't crazy with activity but its almost time. At the first pool in Ravenswood we saw a couple Spotted salamanders migrating to the pool and 25 or so congregating on the bottom of the pool in the leaf litter. Occasionally they would come up for air. We saw a couple Spring peepers but it was probably on the cold side tonight. We heard a few croaks too. At the second pool there were a whole bunch of Spotted salamanders really trying to hide on the pool floor. A definite highlight was the ninety trillion Fairy shrimp and this photograph.

Fairy shrimp and Springtails

The Fairy shrimp are amazing to behold. Look at the invertebrates detail. They are graceful little fairies indeed. You gotta love this photograph! Also look at the outlines of the bugs in white - they are called Springtails, or more commonly snow fleas. The name is derived from the furcula on the abdomen which acts like a spring when released. It moves the Springtails a pretty fair distance. They are wingless anthropods which are aquatic or semiaquatic and can be found on vernal pool surfaces feeding on microorganisms. There are almost a dozen on the stick above the water too.

Fairy shrimp and Spring peeper photograph by Susan Boyé

Fairy shrimp and Spotted salamander coming up up for air video by Susan Boyé

Spring peeper

Notice the X marks the spot...on his back. You can tell if its a male because they make loud noises when their throat expands. If you look closely at the neck you might be able to see the double chin.

Beautiful female Spotted salamander full of eggs
photograph by Susan Boyé

Fairy frenzy photograph above taken by Christian Kishida

Spring peeper skedaddling photograph by Susan Boyé

Spotted salamander  

The one to the left and below is the mom - and doesn't she look proud posing here?

This group of three Spotted salamander photographs by Susan Boyé

So sweet...

Photograph by
Susan Boyé

Spotted salamander

Notice the similar head size but difference in body size. The thick one above is a female full of eggs. The one to the right is a male. Here she is again, below, holding perfectly still trying to look natural and not be noticed. 

This submerged Spotted salamander
photograph by Christian Kishida

Spotted salamander on the move video by Susan Boyé


Just a little madd!


First Nighttime Vernal Pond Field Trip - April 4, 2017 at 8:30 - 10:00 pm

Incredible field trip, even in the drizzle. There's just nothing like this experience! Rick took us to two vernal pools in Ravenswood. We saw about 50 Spotted salamanders in the pools and several making the migration. We saw two Spring peepers hopping to the pool. There was one Wood frog in the pool and we heard a few others quacking...along with about fifty million Fairy shrimp.  The photographs below are from this field trip.

Spotted salamander

What a beauty! You can tell it's a male because it has a swollen area that carries the sperm... just behind the hind legs. When you look at the underside it can be seen even more clearly. Also love the stripes on his fingers and toes.

This grouping of four Spotted salamander photographs by Christian Kishida

It's sort of hard to see but there are about a half dozen Spotted salamanders on the bottom of the pool. They swim to the top and take a gulp of air every now and then. The white stuff in the water is salamander sperm. Plus there's fairy shrimp in there too.

Above photograph of Spring peeper by Christian Kishida

Spring Peeper

This one's a little cutie. Although he's fully grown, he's only about 3/4 of an inch long. Notice the streaked spotting on him. We saw two tonight and we were lucky and got a photograph of this one sitting on a lichen covered wet rock. You can see his sticky hand in the photograph below.


Fairy Shrimp

At the first vernal pond we went to there wasn't a single Fairy shrimp to be had. The second vernal pond had about a kazillion of them swimming around on their backs. They are such pretty little things and Rick was able to attract a nice herd of them for us. 

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Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team    *    366 Main Street #2    *    Gloucester, MA  01930

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