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Turtles and Salamanders and Frogs!

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Our nature study topic for this month at the Outdoor Hour Challenge was reptiles and amphibians, and we hit it big with salamanders!  I’ve got some pictures of frogs and turtles to show you too, but first, let me give you a little show and tell on how to find salamanders.

1.  Trudge through the woods looking for dead logs lying on the ground.

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2.  Spot one and quickly turn it over (with great anticipation!).

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3.  Strain your eyes to make out a dark, little, slithery something lying quite still in the leaves and debris where the log had been.

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4.  Squeal excitedly and pick it up.  Then dash off for the next log.

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That’s a pretty accurate picture of how our nature walk went the day we decided to go hunting for salamanders.  It was early this month — before the weather turned warmer, so we were all bundled up and freezing our fingers, but the kids really got into it.  I’d say they found 20-30 salamanders until it was all said and done!  We had no idea how plentiful these guys are all around the forest floor!  I guess we had never stopped to look before.

They hide under rocks or logs during the day to avoid predators, such as raccoons, opossums, frogs, and snakes; then they come out at night to hunt for worms and various other creepy crawlies to feast on.  I’m pretty sure they were still hibernating when we discovered them, because at first glance, and even first touch, they were almost motionless.  With some jiggling and prodding, however, they proved they were indeed alive, and this gave the kids the biggest thrill the first couple of times we discovered them.

They are amphibians, so they hatch from eggs that have been laid in water.  They begin their lives with gills for breathing in water, then develop lungs for the rest of their adult life on land.  (Instead of lungs, some of them breath through pores in their skin.)  The ones we found were small — 6 inches or less — and were dark brown in color, sometimes with a dull orange streak running the length of their back.  From what I could determine after looking up pictures of salamanders on-line, they are red-backed salamanders.  There are a ton of different species of salamanders, so I could easily be wrong.

We brought several of our salamanders home and put them in our moss terrarium.  They quickly tunneled down beneath the moss, and remain there most of the time.  They probably come out at night when no one is looking, but I did catch one peeking up at me one morning before breakfast.

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They never really ate anything we offered them at first.  I wonder if they weren’t still hibernating.  But yesterday the kids gave them some earth worms we found while weeding the flowerbed, and they excitedly reported that they witnessed a salamander eating it!

We weren’t successful in finding any other reptiles and amphibians this month, but here are some pictures of some we’ve seen other years.

Jefferson holding a turtle (painted turtle?) he and Dad discovered.

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And here is a turtle you wouldn’t want to touch!  This big ole’ snapping turtle must have crawled up from our pond to lay her eggs in the ground near our barn.  We counted the eggs and found 15!  As you can see, they look just like ping-pong balls.  Their shells are a bit flexible, but very tough. (I personally think snapping turtles are one of the ugliest creatures I’ve seen, but you may beg to differ!)

Just last night I think I heard the first spring peeper of the year!  These tiny frogs are the ones who make that loud, shrill, “peep” in the evenings just as it’s getting dark.  They usually hang out around water;  we hear their song coming from our pond on early summer evenings.

One Sunday evening last May our whole family took a walk and were delighted to actually get a glimpse of these tiny frogs.  The sound of their peeping was almost deafening as we approached the little marshy pond where they were.  Imagine our excitement when we caught sight of this little fellow, singing his heart out (or maybe that would be “singing his throat out!) right there on a thistle leaf!  We stood there and watched him for quite some time before he hopped away.

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My husband even got a video with his smart phone.  I can’t post it here since I haven’t purchased the video upgrade, but I uploaded it to YouTube.  If you want to see a spring peeper ‘in action’ check out our video here.

We’re looking forward to finding even more turtles and salamanders and frogs and things as summer approaches. 🙂

moss terrarium 2013-03-29 002                                 November Flowers                                      2013-04-23 002

Moss Study                          How We Do Nature Study                              Baby Birds

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