My young cousin Morgan had so much fun exploring the mountain with her Great Aunt Marcia last year on Labor Day weekend, she brought along her best friend Devon this time. They arrived around 10:00 and wanted to go down to the stream and start looking under rocks right away.
Salamanders of two main species — slimy and northern dusky — live under the rocks in abundance, but not the ones out in the water, which was mostly where the kids wanted to be. With two kids, the energy level was quite high, and splashing in the water, debarking rotten logs, and looking for wild mushrooms often diverted their attention from the task at hand. Plus, only Mom was quick enough to actually catch a salamander — or perhaps it was just that she didn’t recoil from their slimy skin. The kids wanted to take one home with them, but we explained how these were lungless salamanders that breathed directly through their skins, and that they would die if removed from their subterranean homes.
We found a couple of earthworms, and Morgan was delighted with a small one that quickly came to life on her hand and circled her thumb. She was having such a good time, Mom and I couldn’t bring ourselves to mention that it was a non-native, invasive species, like almost all earthworms north of the Mason-Dixon line. Why risk spoiling the magic of discovery with a dose of gloom and doom?
Other rock-flippers had preceded us that morning, but we weren’t lucky enough to catch sight of them — unlike Fred First, who won the IRFD Grand Prize for getting a picture of something other than a human flipping a rock yesterday, which we will consequently have to rename Interspecies Rock-Flipping Day. (And no, I still haven’t figured out what the prize will be. Any suggestions?)
Many of the rocks in the stream concealed crayfish burrows, which Devon in particular took great delight in finding. When I caught an actual crayfish, though, neither one of them could be convinced to hold it. It waved its claws belligerently at me as I crouched to take its picture.
About a quarter mile below the houses, we came to an area where Mom had taken a couple of other kids earlier in the week. Judging by the print on top of this rock, not all the rocks had been returned to their exact positions. That’s probably O.K. for creek stones, though — they get moved around quite a bit in the normal course of events, so the creatures that live under them must be adapted to a fair amount of turmoil.
The rock with the rock-print on it turned out to be hiding a wood frog! Mom said they had found a frog here the other day, too, under a different rock — presumably the same individual. As their name suggests, wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) live in the woods, and we tend to think of them as needing water only during their brief mating season in early spring, when they crowd ephemeral woodland pools for raucous orgies. The rest of the time, they are off in the forest doing who knows what, and perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised to discover one in what is essentially salamander habitat. They may not breathe through their skins, but they do need to keep cool and moist, and the humus isn’t nearly as deep as it used to be with all the non-native earthworms gobbling it up.
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