It was a “perfect storm”. An early March warm spell. The daytime temperature rose into the low 60s (Fahrenheit) and then it rained all afternoon. This is the magic formula that stirs the mole salamanders into action. When darkness prevails, out of the earth they climb and then trek toward their breeding sites … vernal pools, small ponds, and temporary streams. They are charged with energy and excited with anticipation. For on this single night, they will mate with vigor, in a frenzy of concentrated activity not only worthy of our attention, but also our deepest reverence and praise.

I feel so fortunate to be here on earth, alive with senses, able to witness this extraordinary event. It is such a special celebration, yet it so easily passes unnoticed as many of us while away these cold, wet nights in the warmth of our homes, hovering over our computers and dreaming of a better world. It is so critically important that we tune-in to these rituals and move our bodies, minds, and spirits out into wild nature, to feel the cold rain on our skin, to smell the rotting leaves underfoot, to hear the din of the spring peepers, and to become immersed in the wonder with our entire beings, as if this is exactly what we have been born to do.

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Cornell Golf Course salamander breeding habitat © Lang Elliott

I gathered the above video clips at the Bull Pasture Pond breeding site on the Cornell University golf course, here in upstate New York. My clips are not the greatest (partly because it was raining), but they get the point across (see below for better video). I managed to get some underwater footage, but darned if I didn’t aim the camera too high. Oh well, I really wish I had concentrated on on getting more underwater footage because it is more intimate and reveals quite a bit more detail.

On this night (March 10-11), both Jefferson and Spotted Salamanders were on the move. Many of the Jefferson Salamanders were actually leaving the breeding area, having bred sometime during the one or two weeks prior. This was the largest migration I’ve witnessed here in over three decades. As you can see from my video, the mating frenzy was quite impressive! Mating activity peaked around 10:30pm. By midnight, with temperatures rapidly dropping into the low 40s, there was far less activity. I would guess that eighty percent or more of this Spotted Salamander population bred during a three-hour stretch, from 8-11pm on this wet and cold early March night. How ephemeral this is, a silent explosion of activity so forceful that it reverberates the surroundings. Yet, within hours, it evaporates into time, leaving but a few traces behind. The Spotted Salamander is truly a mayfly of the amphibian world.

Here I am talking about the experience with my scratchy voice (from throat cancer treatment):

Below are two additional videos that celebrate the two species that were on the move last night. Go here for relevant natural history information for the Spotted Salamander.

Spotted Salamander – Species Portrait:

Jefferson Salamander – Species Portrait:

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