Archive for April, 2014

They’re back!

April 30, 2014

Adult-stage Common Whitetail dragonflies (Plathemis lydia), that is. Larval-stage dragonflies, also known as nymphs, live year-round in the waters of the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park although they are seen rarely.

I didn’t see any “home grown” dragonflies flying over the central wetland area during a photowalk on 27 April 2014. All of the dragonflies featured in this post are immature — they were hunkered down for safety in fields near the hemi-marsh where they emerged recently.

The three dragonflies shown below are immature males, as indicated by their coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages. Can you tell which one is oldest?

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature male)

The two dragonflies shown below are immature females, as indicated by their coloration, pattern of wing spots, and terminal appendages. Can you tell which one is older?

Common Whitetail dragonfly (female)

Common Whitetail dragonfly (immature female)

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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Toad-ally in love! (Part 5)

April 28, 2014

American Toad (tadpoles)

On 18 April 2014, six days after I observed Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) mating in a couple of vernal pools located near the terminus of the Hike-Bike Trail at Huntley Meadows Park, I spotted thousands of tadpoles swimming in the larger pool.

Why do toads lay thousands of eggs? The answer is, in a word, survival. According to Kevin Munroe, former Park Manager at HMP, tadpoles have a 1-in-10 chance of surviving to become adult toads, although their chances of survival may be greater in fish-less water bodies such as vernal pools.

The preceding still “photoad” is an outtake from one of eight video clips featured in the movie “toadpoles,” shown below.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 5 in a five-part series of posts featuring two types of toads commonly seen at Huntley Meadows Park: Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus); and Fowler’s Toads (Anaxyrus fowleri).

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Toad-ally in love! (Part 4)

April 26, 2014

The following pair of mating Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) was spotted during a photowalk through Huntley Meadows Park on 12 April 2014.

American Toads (mating pair)

Eastern American- and Fowler’s Toads (Anaxyrus fowleri) are similar in appearance and often coexist in the same habitat. Fowler’s Toads are known to hybridize with other species of toads; this may be a pair of hybrid toads.

American Toads (mating pair)

The toads were mating in a small vernal pool located near the terminus of the Hike-Bike Trail.

American Toads (mating pair)

Notice the black-and-white strings of toad eggs faintly visible in all of the photos.

American Toads (mating pair)

Editor’s Note: This is Part 4 in a five-part series of posts featuring two types of toads commonly seen at Huntley Meadows Park: Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus); and Fowler’s Toads (Anaxyrus fowleri).

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Toad-ally in love! (Part 3)

April 24, 2014

The following photos show another pair of Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) spotted during a photowalk through Huntley Meadows Park on 12 April 2014. The toads were mating in a large vernal pool located near the terminus of the Hike-Bike Trail.

American Toads (mating pair)

The pair of toads featured in this post and in Part 2 are quite different in coloration.

The color is highly variable, from brick-red through browns and olive grays to light gray. Source Credit: eastern American toad (Anaxyrus americanus americanus), Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

The reddish-orange color of the female toad is beautiful. (I thought I’d never use the words “toad” and “beautiful” in the same sentence!)

American Toads (mating pair)

Notice the black-and-white strings of toad eggs visible in all three photos.

American Toads (mating pair)

Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 in a five-part series of posts featuring two types of toads commonly seen at Huntley Meadows Park: Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus); and Fowler’s Toads (Anaxyrus fowleri).

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Toad-ally in love! (Part 2)

April 22, 2014

The following pair of Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus) is shown in amplexus, in which the male (top) holds onto the female (bottom): the female lays eggs in the water; the male fertilizes the eggs, externally from the female.

Notice the black-and-white strings of toad eggs in the water.

The eggs are laid in long spiral gelatinous strings and each egg is 1/25 to 1/16 inch in diameter. The eggs, 4000 to 8000 in number, are laid in two strings, and hatch in 3 to 12 days. Source Credit: eastern American toad (Anaxyrus americanus americanus), Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

American Toads (mating pair)

This pair of mating toads was spotted in a large vernal pool during a photowalk along the Hike-Bike Trail at Huntley Meadows Park on 12 April 2014.

American Toads (mating pair)

Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 in a five-part series of posts featuring two types of toads commonly seen at Huntley Meadows Park: Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus); and Fowler’s Toads (Anaxyrus fowleri).

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Toad-ally in love! (Part 1)

April 20, 2014

The wetlands are alive, with the sound of trilling! Yep, either I’m channeling Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music or it’s mating season for toads in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States of America.

The mating process begins when male toads, such as the following Eastern American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus), go to a body of water and begin calling females. This individual was spotted on 12 April 2014 in a large vernal pool located near the terminus of the Hike-Bike Trail at Huntley Meadows Park.

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)

The following movie shows a male toad calling several times. The mating calls of other male toads can be heard in the background, as well as wind noise (the video clip was recorded on a windy day).

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 in a five-part series of posts featuring two types of toads commonly seen at Huntley Meadows Park: Eastern American Toads (Anaxyrus americanus); and Fowler’s Toads (Anaxyrus fowleri).

Related Resources:

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Eastern Gartersnake (female)

April 18, 2014

Eastern Gartersnake (female)

Kara Jones, a graduate student and teaching assistant at George Mason University, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, is shown examining an Eastern Gartersnake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) as part of her field studies at Huntley Meadows Park. This individual is a female, according to Kara.

Snakes can be sexed based on the length and shape of the tail. Males have intromittent organs called hemipenes, which are stored within the tail. Therefore the tails of male snakes are longer and thicker than females. So it takes some time to learn how to sex snakes visually since you have to handle a number of snakes before you get used to the relative thickness and length between males and females. Source Credit: Kara Jones.

I was fortunate to meet Kara during a photowalk through the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park on 06 April 2014. Thanks to Kara for sharing lots of good amphibian- and reptile knowledge during our walk-and-talk along the boardwalk!

Eastern Gartersnake (female)

Fun fact! Gartersnakes are ovoviviparous, that is to say they give birth to live young. Females can store males’ sperm for long periods of time, even years, waiting for the appropriate conditions to reproduce. Gartersnakes are born in litters of up to 80 or more, and are immediately able to live independently with no parental care. Gartersnakes (Thamnophis sp.) are the most widely distributed genus of reptiles in North America. Source Credit: Karen Loughrey Richard, Project Noah Facebook group.

Eastern Gartersnake (female)

Editor’s Note: Please don’t try this yourself — collecting specimens for observation is not allowed at Huntley Meadows Park.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Common Ribbonsnakes (mating pair)

April 16, 2014

Common Ribbonsnakes (mating pair)

The preceding photograph shows a mating pair of a Common Ribbonsnakes (Thamnophis sauritus sauritus), spotted on 02 April 2014 along the boardwalk that goes through the central wetland area at Huntley Meadows Park. The larger snake is the female; the smaller one is the male.

The happy couple is resting on a bed of dried cattail leaves (Typha sp.) and Swamp Rose stems (Rosa palustris). Notice the round insect gall on a Swamp Rose stem (located to the left of the male’s head, relative to the photo). The gall was probably made by a species of Cynipid wasp.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Swamp Sparrow

April 14, 2014

I admit I’m a recovering “sparrow snob.” Sparrows are so common, it’s easy to overlook their beauty. For example, notice the subtly beautiful coloration of the Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana) shown in the following photos — the bird is camouflaged with its habitat so well!

This individual was spotted on 02 April 2014 during a photowalk through Huntley Meadows Park.

Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)

Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)

Swamp Sparrows spend a lot of time foraging for insects and aquatic invertebrates in the swamp at my favorite marshland park. The next two photos show the sparrow snacking on swamp SWAG.

Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)

Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (immature male)

April 11, 2014

Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (immature male)

The preceding photograph shows a Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula vibrans) spotted on 14 May 2013 during a photowalk at Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge, a 1,200 acre preserve located at Army Garrison Fort Belvoir, Fairfax County, Virginia USA.

This individual is an immature male, as indicated by its coloration and terminal appendages. Notice the immature male Great Blue Skimmer dragonfly resembles the female of the same species.

Males often go through an immature stage in which they are patterned much like females but then change dramatically at maturity by adding a layer of pruinosity (a powdery bloom much like the one we see on plums) to part or all of their thorax and abdomen. Most pruinosity is whitish to pale blue. Source Credit: Paulson, Dennis (2011-12-19). Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East (Princeton Field Guides) (Kindle Locations 696-698). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Copyright © 2014 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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