Category Archives: seasonal: summer

Frog Hunting In Maryland: The Northern Cricket Frog

It is spring and time to look for frogs. Yesterday, my daughter and I went for a nature walk in the woods around our house. During our adventure, we found this frog. It is a cricket frog, Acris crepitans. Cricket frogs are non-climbing tree frog. I’ll be sure to look for their eggs during their breeding season (May through July).

This cricket frog is on a child’s hand.

Identification:

They vary in color but often have a dark triangle present between the eyes and a Y-shaped stripe on their backs.

Raising Tree Frog Tadpoles (MD, USA)

If you have kids, raising tadpoles into frogs is a must. With not much effort you can witness the fascinating metamorphosis of a tadpole into a frog. Here is a tree frog we raised in the summer of 2004.

Gray tree frog found on my house (which is green) in southern Maryland 2008.

Green tree frog found outside my house. (Southern Maryland 2008)

Green tree frog outside my kitchen window 2009. It is not uncommon for tree frogs to hang out there eating the moths that are attracted to the light.

Mini Pond -2004

We have a galvanized container that I got at an antique store that doubles as a mini deck pond. When it rains we often hear one or more male tree frogs calling for a mate. They usually get together at night but we’ve seen them on really rainy days. In the morning we see eggs in our pond: lots of them. It doesn’t take long before you have all those little tadpoles swimming around. At this point, we get a few of the tadpoles to raise inside. I find that if the weather is really hot, the tadpoles all die. Hence, for better results, we bring some inside for raising. The tadpoles in our mini deck pond, if conditions are good, will eat mosquito larvae growing in the “pond”. Therefore, I don’t have to worry about creating a mosquito problem. The tadpoles will also eat algae- the green stuff growing on the sides of your pond. Your pond will stay cleaner looking. They will also resort to eating smaller tadpoles. This sounds pretty harsh but in doing so, at least some of the tadpoles will make it to adulthood.

Home for tadpoles

We kept our tadpoles in various large glass containers over the years. I like to limit the number of tadpoles because you don’t want to overcrowd them. The number you raise will depend on the size of the jar or tank you use

Change the water:

Freshen the water by dumping about half out and replacing it with fresh water. I have well water but if you have city water, you probably have chlorine to worry about. The chlorine will kill your tadpoles so set out a pitcher of water for a day or two in preparation to adding it to your jar of tadpoles.

Feed your tadpoles:

Your jar pond should have sunlight so the algae can grow. They love to eat the algae that grow naturally but there will not be enough in your little “pond” so you will need to feed them.

Don’t add so much food that the water gets all dirty looking. Feed as needed. I’ve successfully raised tadpoles on lettuce. I chopped it up then boiled it for a short time. (I’ve since read that boiling it first isn’t necessary.) After that I’d either pour off the water and freeze it or make portions in ice cube trays: the lettuce is frozen in the ice. Either break off bits of your frozen lettuce or drop in an ice cube when necessary. I’ve also feed them leftover fish food that I didn’t need any more. They loved that too.

I recently found the following link. It provides additional information about keeping tadpoles and is definitely worth checking out (no pictures though).

http://frogs.org.au/x/media/cs-lentic.pdf

When they start to grow front legs, you will need to cover your jar with cheese cloth or mesh of some kind so they don’t escape into your house. There needs to be something for the frog to climb onto- out of the water because you don’t want your new frog to drown. Release your tree frog back into the wild after metamorphosis takes place.

The whole process will take a little over two months if you are starting with eggs.

Check out the mouth on this guy!

This tadpole is clearly trying to go unnoticed.

Back legs at last!

Almost done!

How cute is that!

Tree frog we raised in the summer of 2008.

Make A Micro Pond Observatory For Learning And Fun: Damselfly Observation

In this photo is a damselfly larvae (arrow points to it) and to its left is a salamander larvae (more on it in another post).

How interesting to discover the world living in pond water. When I scooped up some pond water and brought it home for observation, I didn’t know that there was a damselfly larvae in it; we just wanted pond water full of tiny aquatic insects to feed our salamander larvae (more on this salamander larvae later). We were delighted when it crawled out of the water and soon emerged as an adult damselfly.

To make your micro pond you need only to find a container, gather some pond water, and add a stick and/or rock. We used a large glass cookie jar. We broke the top sometime back; it is 10.5 inches height and about 9 inches across (see picture). But you can use what you have or can find; think outside the box. Use an extra large pickle jar (ask for one at a sandwich shop; that’s what I did), find a secondhand fish bowl (not hard to find at thrift stores), or use a large glass carafe from a coffee maker (one that the coffee maker itself is broken but not the carafe).

The idea is to keep your micro-pond around long enough to allow things to grow. We plan to keep ours for most of the summer or until our frogs metamorphose. Some frogs like bull frogs and sometimes green frogs hibernate at the bottom of ponds and therefore will not finish metamorphosing until the following summer. Bull frogs will sometimes take 3 years. If tadpoles don’t complete their metamorphosis, we will let them go before the fall (more about keeping tadpoles in another post). To keep the critters in your micro- pond alive you must add new pond water to it every week. Take out some of the old water at this time. Basically, the tiny things swimming around are food for the larger things. 

According to this website: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/bay/cblife/insects/damselflies.html, larvae feed on other insects and small invertebrates while adult damselflies feed on mosquitoes and other flying insects.

The three “tails” at the back are called the caudal lamellae. These are the insect’s gills.

The skin that the insect leaves behind after turning into a winged adult damselfly is called an exuvia.

Here is a snapshot of the adult damselfly. You will want to put a screen across the top of your pond if you suspect a damselfly larvae will be emerging soon. I was unprepared and this guy got away in my house.

More about this soon.

Look For Amphipods The Next Time You Are Visiting A Beach

Summer is on the way and many families head to the beach. Make a special effort to seek out amphipods. They are rather interesting little creatures.

You can find amphipods such as this big-eyed beach flea on or in the sand. This picture was taken in Southern Maryland. They like to feed on decaying vegetation that washes up on the beach.

This amphipod is commonly called a beach flea. Don’t worry though, they don’t bite. They feed only on organic debris. If you get flea bites from a visit to the beach, you got them from common fleas (like the kind you have on your cat or dog). Common fleas can also be found on beaches.

Big-eyed Beach Flea Talorchestia megalophthalma

Have you ever come across any of these funny looking things with excellent hopping ability while at the beach?

More about amphipods:

About 7,000 species of amphipods have so far been described.

Amphipods are found in almost all aquatic environments.

Finding Salamanders for Fun and Study: Where to Look and How To Handle For Your Safety And Theirs

Northern Two Lined Salamander

Lungless salamanders, like the one above, breathe through the mucous membrane in their mouth and throat and through their skin. Moisture is especially important to lungless salamanders, because their skin must be wet in order to absorb oxygen. These animals like to stay protected but may venture out when the air is very humid. I guess that is why we found him out on that drizzly day.

Northern Two Lined Salamander

Northern two-lined salamander found not too far from my house. Isn’t it cute?

Here is an activity to get the kids outside. Take them on a fun salamander hunt. Your kids probably won’t need much convincing but you can get them excited by telling them a few cool facts about salamanders.

1. Salamanders can drop off their tails to escape predators. This is called tail autotomy. The disconnected tale wiggles around and provides a distraction so the salamander can escape.

2. Salamanders can grow back a missing tail! It can also re-grow a missing leg!!

3. Salamanders regularly shed the outer layer of their skin (the epidermis) as they grow, and then eat it.

4. The skin of salamanders secretes mucus, which helps keep the animal moist when not in the water.

5. Salamanders can secrete poison from glands in their skin in order to be an undesirable meal. (more about that below)

Where to look for salamanders

Because a salamander’s skin must stay moist, look for adult salamanders in places where the earth is damp such as: under leaves, under logs, or near a wetland (stream, pond, swamp, marsh). If you do look under logs, be sure to replace the log back the way you found it being careful not to squish any living organism in the process.

Because salamanders are nocturnal (which means they are active mostly at night), you might also try hunting at night.

Perhaps you have come across one while doing yard work, working in your garden or while hiking through the woods.

Northern Two Lined Salamander on my finger

Most salamanders have four toes on their front legs and five on their rear legs. This guy has 5 toes on its back legs; they are just hard to see in this photo.

Be kind to these little critters:

Handling suggestions for salamanders

Make sure you wash your hands before and after touching a salamander (or any amphibian). Wash your hands beforehand to remove any moisturizing lotion, suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap residue, or toxins from other amphibians. Salamanders are very sensitive to such things.

Handling should be kept to a minimum. When I show salamanders to children, I like to let the salamander walk on my hand rather than me “holding it”. You don’t want to squeeze any part of its delicate body.

Salamanders need to be kept cool. Also, they shouldn’t be left out in the sun because their skin will dry out. Mist its skin as necessary.

Never hold a salamander by its tail; it can break off. Although it can grow it back, it’s better for it not to have to.

Protect yourself:

Always wash your hands after handling amphibians because they have glands in their skin that secrete chemicals. (Salamanders, frogs, toads and newts are amphibians.)

Some of these chemicals are very nasty tasting. Your dog or cat may have discovered this. (That guy just didn’t want to be eaten.)

Some chemicals may cause skin or eye irritation. Don’t take any chances, wash your hands.

Some may actually kill (the poison-dart frogs of Central America).

Among the native amphibians of the United States, the two amphibians of greatest concern are giant toads (also called cane toads, marine toads, aga toads; Bufo marinus)- Common in some parts of FL. and the western newts of the genus, Taricha (found on the west coast of the U.S.).

Proper hand washing after handling should also prevent any problems with infection from Salmonella (bacteria that makes you sick).

This website http://therealowner.com/reptiles-amphibians/caring-for-salamanders/

Has good advice on how to care for your temporary “pet” once you find it.

For more information presented in a kid friendly way, check out this website:

http://www.thorp.k12.wi.us/~steinbach/limnology_oceanography/student_work/Salamanders/index.html