Elms Environmental Education Center

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Critter of the Month

Every month we highlight a different local animal.

May 2014: Green Tree Frog

American Green Tree Frog

Hyla cinerea

Who am I?

I am a frog, I spend lots of time climbing trees, duh. Trees are where the food lives and I blend in really well with the leaves. My mate and I will get together in late April and I will lay eggs in the local pond or other still fresh water. I will usually lay eggs only once a year, but hey, rules are meant to be broken. I make a very distinctive call that kinda sounds like a duck. If you go out at night with a flashlight you can follow my call and easily find me.

Where can you find me?

In trees, duh. Oh, and on your windows and screens on summer nights, assuming you left a light on. Okay, in ponds and puddles and wheelbarrows -- anywhere there is water sitting around; that is where I lay my eggs. There you can find my tiny tadpoles if you look carefully. 

What do I eat?

I eat insects, all kinds including mosquitos, flies, crickets. Basically any insect that can fit in my mouth and is silly enough to get too close.

What might eat me?

I watch out for snakes, lizards, birds, turtles, oh, and people. People catch me and keep me in a little tank as a pet. Water beetles, fish, and other aquatic predators will eat my babies if they are not careful.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • I am skittish and will jump or climb at the slightest hint of danger.
  • I can sense vibrations in the ground so step quietly around me.
  • I eat mosquitos so don't hurt me!

 

March 2014: Spotted Salamander

Yellow Spotted Salamander
Ambystoma maculatum

Who am I?

I am an amphibian, a clawless, scaleless, jelly-egg laying salamander. Some salamanders spend their entire lives in water, but I only lay my eggs in water and then spend my time underground in the forest. Never too far from water though, I am an amphibian and have to stay moist. I started life as one of a bunch (50-200) of eggs all stuck together in a fancy mud puddle called a vernal pool. The pool I live in will dry out eventually but hopefully not for the four months it took me to grow up and wander off into the woods. You see, when I hatched I had gills just like a fish, I could not breathe air. It takes a long time to grow lungs. Once I had legs and lungs I could leave the pool. I spent a couple of years alone until I was ready to lay eggs myself. Soon "the big night out" was upon me. Seriously, some humans call it the "big night out". The big night out is when all my friends and family return to the same pool where we were born to find a mate and lay eggs. It is usually in late February but certainly will happen on the first night in late winter when it is raining and the air temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Usually the males get their first and deposit little sacks of sperm and it is my task to choose one and use it to fertilize my eggs. After I lay my eggs the babies will hatch in about 10 days depending on the temperature of the water. I don't stick around and wait for them to hatch, there is a whole lot of forest to explore. My babies are on their own. They will do just fine. Me, I sleep my days away and hunt at night.

Where can you find me?

My family live in the eastern United States and Canada. I am everywhere in Southern Maryland but you usually don't see me because I am a "mole" salamander and live underground in tunnels and burrows that other animals have made. I don't have claws or teeth to dig my own tunnels. If you want to see me your best bet is in late winter (February) when I am heading to my pool to breed. Turn over logs in the water, or just look carefully -- you will see me when I move. In March and April you can catch my babies by slowly pushing your upturned hand into the leaves on the bottom of the vernal pool. Put them back right away so they can grow up to be big, healthy salamanders.

What do I eat?

Insects and worms, basically little things that will fit in my mouth. I don't like vegetables and surprisingly my mother never complained about it.

What might eat me?

Hmm ... I wish I could say that the nasty tasting poison on my skin and my bright yellow spots keeps other critters from looking to me for dinner, but I would be too optimistic. Critters such as herons, other birds, raccoons, skunks and snakes will eat me if they can stomach my foul taste. Sometimes they learn their lesson and eat one of my family and then never again, unless they are really hungry.

Cool reasons why I am the critter of the month!

  • I am usually the first amphibian to lay eggs in the spring.
  • After I mature I return to the same vernal pool where I was born to lay my own eggs.
  • I have a sticky poison on my skin that can cause a rash like poison ivy. It makes me taste really nasty.
  • I make a lousy pet because I live underground and am only active at night.
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