Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team

Featured Creature

This is a Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team series of informational tidbits and photos about animals that are found in and around the vernal pool habitat. Every now and then we spotlight one of these neat creatures. See if you can recognize any from your woodland wanderings....

Spring Peeper

spring peeper

The male spring peeper singing for his mate

Common Name:
Spring peeper
Scientific Name: Pseudacris crucifer
Features: About 1 inch long (small enough to fit in a bottle cap). Only weigh between 3 and 5 grams (about the weight of a nickel). They can be tan, brown, gray or olive colored with a dark cross on their back and dark bands on their legs.
Lifespan: The average lifespan for a spring peeper is 3 to 4 years.
Range: They are native to most of the central and eastern US and Canada.
Diet: Adults eat beetles, ants, flies, and spiders. Tadpoles graze on algae, decaying plant material and microorganisms in the water.
Threats: Tadpoles are preyed upon by predaceous beetles, dragonfly larvae and turtles. Larger frogs, snakes and birds are predators of adult spring peepers. The biggest threat to spring peepers is the loss of wetland habitat necessary for breeding and tadpole development.


  • Habitat - Most of the year they are found in woodlands and marshy habitats.
  • Abundance - Common in some localities.
  • Breeding - Males call to attract females to breed during the spring once nighttime temperatures begin to rise. They breed in freshwater wetlands, including vernal ponds. The males crawl onto the female’s back and fertilize the eggs as she lays them.
  • Egg deposition - Eggs can be laid in numbers of up to 1000 from a single female. The eggs hatch into tadpoles in 7 to 10 days depending on the temperature of the water. Tadpoles metamorphose into adults in about 5 to 8 weeks.
  • Fun Facts -
    - Pseudacris means false locust which refers to their insect-like call and crucifer refers to the cross-like mark on their      backs.
    - Spring peepers are able to survive temperatures as low as 17°F by producing glycerol which acts as a natural       “antifreeze” preventing ice crystals from forming in their cells.
    - Spring peepers are primarily nocturnal, meaning they come out at night, to help them avoid predators.
    - A group of spring peepers is called an army.

The Peepers Call

Spring peepers begin to emerge once nighttime temperatures rise, signaling spring is approaching. The call of the male spring peeper is one of the loudest and most distinct sounds associated with spring. They are able to do this by expanding the vocal sack under their chin, like a balloon, and forcing air over their vocal cords. The mating call can be repeated as often as 20 times per minute and males often play off each other engaging in duos, trios, and quartets. The chorus of spring peeper calls is typically around 65 decibels, but within closer range it can reach 90 decibels. During mating season calling peeps are as loud as a leaf blower or a Guns N’ Roses concert!

Photograph by Emily Erickson
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    Marbled Salamander

    image of a marbled salamander

    Marbled salamander

    Common Name: Marbled salamander
    Scientific Name: Ambystoma opacum
    Size: Adults 11 cm (4 in)
    Lifespan: 8-10+ years
    Range: Eastern United States to Southern New England to Florida, and as far west as Illinois and Texas.
    Diet: Salamander larvae eat small aquatic animals (zooplankton), adult salamanders eat terrestrial invertebrates, such as worms, insects, centipedes and mollusks (snails, slugs), larger salamanders will eat eggs and larvae of other amphibians.

    • Habitat - Damp woodlands, forests, and places with soft wet soil. They are secretive, spending most of their life under logs or in burrows.
    • Abundance - Uncommon, not found on Cape Ann. A threatened species in Massachusetts.
    • Breeding - During the fall the adults migrate to dry vernal ponds. Eggs are laid singly in shallow depressions beneath surface materials. Females may brood eggs which usually hatch in fall or early winter when submerged.
    • Similar Species - Other mole salamanders including spotted and blue spotted.
    • Comments - Has a stocky build, boldly banded. Female’s bands tend to be grey while those of the male’s are mostly white. Nocturnal, not poisonous like other salamanders.

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    Eastern Ribbon Snake

    eastern ribbon snake

    The charming and vivacious ribbon snake

    Common Name: 
    Eastern ribbon snake
    Scientific Name: Thamnophis sauritus sauritus
    Size: Adults 2' or more
    Lifespan: Unknown
    Range: Most of the Eastern United States
    Record: 38"
    Diet: 90% frogs, toads, and salamanders. Usually small or metamorphosing individuals.


    • Habitat - Semi-aquatic, prefers areas with brushy vegetation at the edge of fresh water wetlands for concealment. One of the more common snakes found in and around our local vernal pools (all snakes can swim).
    • Abundance - Generally common. Hibernate underground from October to March.
    • Breeding - After emergence from hibernation. Young are born live from July to September.
    • Similar Species - Garter snake (also genus Thamnophis). Ribbons are more slender, have a bolder pattern, longer tails, and the lips are unpatterned.
    • Comments - An agile, nervous snake, seldom wanders more than a few hundred feet from water. Fleeing ribbon snakes skirt shorelines, threading their way through vegetation, disappearing from sight with amazing speed.

    References: Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians-Eastern/Central North America, Roger Conant. Audubon Field Guide to New England, Peter Alden & Brian Cassie. Amphibians and Reptiles of New England, Habitats, and Natural History, DeGraaf and Rudis.

    Photograph by Colleen Anderson
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      Spotted Salamander

      spotted salamander larvae

      Aquatic Spotted salamander larva (right). Those feathery-looking things growing out of its neck are gills. 

      spotted salamander

      A newly metamorphosed Spotted salamander (left) is 2.5” long. Now a land animal, the gills are gone and the lungs are fully functional.

      Common Name: Spotted salamander
      Scientific Name: Ambystoma maculatum
      Size: Adults 6 - 7.75” Record 9.75”
      Lifespan: 20 years
      Range: All of New England and most of the Eastern United States
      Diet: Earthworms, snails, slugs, insects, spiders, larval and adult beetles


      • Habitat - Moist woods, beneath stones and logs. Prefers deciduous or mixed woods and shallow woodland ponds. Terrestrial hibernator. Usually breeds in vernal ponds.
      • Relative Abundance - Common- though secretive. Populations declining due to habitat destruction and over-collecting.
      • Breeding - Mass breeding migrations to pools occur from March to early April throughout New England. Eggs are laid in large masses of jelly, sometimes milky, sometimes clear, attached to underwater stems. Each female lays one to ten masses. About 100 eggs per mass.
      • Eggs Hatch - 31-54 days depending on water temperature.
      • Larval Period - 61-110 days. Usually metamorphose into adults from July to September. They are known to overwinter as larvae.
      • Comments - Nocturnal, usually found above ground only during migrations to and from breeding pools. Individuals have been found up to 1/4 mile from the nearest breeding pool.
      • Obligate Species - Spotted salamanders are considered, for the purpose of certification, an obligate vernal pond species. Their egg masses are proof of the existence of a vernal pond, as long as the pond meets physical requirements, such as a confined basin depression with no permanent inlet or outlet.

      Reference: Amphibians and Reptiles of New England, Habitats and Natural History. DeGraaf and Rudis

      Photographs by Colleen Anderson

      Blue-Spotted Salamander

      blue-spotted salamanderRaise your hand if you’re a Blue-spotted salamander.
      Or alternate caption: Hey! We’re the Featured Creature. Gimme a high four!

      Common Name: Blue-spotted salamander
      Scientific Name: Ambystoma laterale
      Size: Adults average 2” from snout to vent (4-5” tip to tip) 
      Lifespan: Unknown
      Range: Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada, more or less
      Diet: Earthworms, sowbugs, and centipedes


      • Habitat - Wooded, swampy or moist areas. Ponds or semi-permanent water, including vernal ponds, for breeding.
      • Breeding - During early spring rains when the temperatures are above freezing.
      • Reproduction - Eggs laid in March and early April. Hatch in about one month.
      • Larval Period - Extends from late June to mid-August.
      • Comments - Acid precipitation and habitat loss are major threats to this species. Masschusetts vernal pond obligate species. State-listed as a species of concern.

      Reference: Amphibians and Reptiles of New England, Habitats and Natural History. DeGraaf and Rudis

      Photograph by Sharron Cohen

      Spotted Turtle

      spotted turtleWe found this Spotted turtle in a vernal pond in West Gloucester
      while working on CAVPT surveys with Dan Wells of Hyla Ecological Services.
      She was at the bottom of the pool under 18” of water.
      The growth rings on her shell indicate she is 18 years old.

      Common Name: Spotted turtle
      Scientific Name: Clemmys guttata
      Size: Adults average about 3 1/2” to 5 1/2” long
      Lifespan: It can take 7 to 10 years for a spotted turtle to reach sexual maturity. They are not particularly long-lived for a turtle, maybe 25 years. Their populations are not likely to bounce back unless measures are taken to protect the turtles and the habitat.
      Range: Eastern United States (more or less)
      Diet: Crustaceans, mollusks, spiders, earthworms, aquatic insects, occasionally frogs, tadpoles, small fish, carrion and vegetation.


      • Habitat - Unpolluted small shallow bodies of water such as woodland streams, wet meadows, bog holes, vernal ponds, marshes, and swamps.
      • Abundance - Populations are declining due to habitat destruction (development, and draining and filling of wetlands), over collecting, and roadkill.
      • Breeding - March to May
      • Reproduction - Deposits eggs on land in June or July. Average clutch size is 2 to 5 eggs. Incubation period of 70-83 days - hatching in late August. Overwintering in the nest may occur.
      • Comments - Wanders over land to different wetlands. May breed in one wetland, feed in one or more wetlands, and overwinter in yet another. Hibernates in muddy wetland bottoms under the ice. May aestivate during the hottest months of summer.

      Reference: Amphibians and Reptiles of New England, Habitats and Natural History. DeGraaf and Rudis

      Photograph by Ron Camille

      Gray Treefrog

      gray tree frogLovely little frog

      Common Name: Gray treefrog
      Scientific Name: Hyla versicolor 
      Size: Adults average about 1 3⁄4” long
      Lifespan: Typical 7 - 9 years
      Range: Eastern United States and Canada, more or less. Locally common throughout the range, but hard to find in some places (like Cape Ann).
      Diet: Eats mostly small insects and spiders


      • Habitat - Various kinds of wooded and forested areas. Hides in tree holes, under bark and in rotten logs when inactive. Sticky feet, often found clinging to moss, lichen, bark, or manmade structures such as the side of a house, a door, or a wooden fence.
      • Features - Able to change color from gray to green to match its background, making them almost impossible to spot unless they move or make a noise. Inside of legs is bright orange, visible when they jump or climb. Newly metamorphosed juveniles are emerald green.
      • Breeding - They breed in freshwater wetlands, often vernal ponds. The breeding call of the male is a short percussive trill that lasts just a few seconds, as opposed to a toad’s trill, which can last 30 to 60 seconds.
      • Similar Species - Cope's gray treefrog looks identical but you can tell them apart by their calls - the Gray treefrog's call has a slower trill that is more musical than Cope's. The Gray treefrog is also a little larger, has bumpier skin, and scientists note it has twice as many chromosones as Cope's.
      • Comments - Can change its color in seconds and tends to become darker when it is cold and dark.

      Photograph by Nicci Cataldo

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