Common Core Standards

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Springtime and the HERPING is Fine!

Happy Herping one and all! It's that time of year when we run outdoors in search of eggs and hidden surprises. OK, if you're me that's what you do.

And last week was no exception--especially after having done a brief hospital stay. I was more than ready to get UP and get OUT and the Brighton Rec. Area, our first choice, is one of our favorite hiking and herping places.

So, Lori, what the heck is a herp? A herp (short for herpetology--the study of amphibians and reptiles) is a turtle, frog, salamander, or snake. The day had warmed nicely, (remember warm weather?) so by the time we hit the trail the frogs were in tune and were having a grand ol time. There were the chorus frogs (sounds like a thumb running over a comb) and the spring peepers (high, shrill peeping song) and wood frogs (sounds like quacking ducks). I could tell it would be a good hike if I kept my ears and eyes open .

When herp hunting and hiking don't forget to do some "log rolling". This is a great way to spot tiny red-backed salamanders. I was successful in finding a few this day. It was Marie and Lisa's first time to see a "red-back" and were surprised to see that the lil guys are no bigger than a worm. Tightly coiled under rotting logs they stay cool and moist. While you're investigating look the red-back salamander neighbors, worms, mites, sow bugs and of course the small white, round "sally" eggs.
And, while you're "log rolling" don't forget to "roll back", meaning replace the cover material over the herp to keep it safe and moist. If the cover item is too heavy, roll it as close as possible and keep the disturbance of the habitat to a minimum.
Spring creepy crawlers
As the day went on, I sprawled out on a fallen oak and took in the sights, smells and frog song and watched vernal pond life waking. Water mites, mosquito larva and beetles danced in the sun on the water surface and below. Very hypnotizing and calming. That's when Marie, who was on her own wildflower hike, called me over to see a Blanding's turtle making her way to the trail through the leaves.
Spring Hide and Seek
This turtle, Michigan's species of special concern, is known for their bright lemon-yellow throat. Whew! I knew this female was safe out here in the woods, but out in suburban areas her kinfolk would be crossing the roads to lay eggs and dodging cars. I've seen so many of these beautiful Blanding's end up a scarred and dead turtles. It's not pretty. And it's not like they are a small turtle and easily missed. Some folks seem to think of them as a disposable, moving target and this valuable herp is at risk this time of year. So keep an eye out for turtles as you go about your day.
As this was a day of "sally's", frogs and turtles--and no snakes, I decided to go back the next day and try my luck at another vernal pond.
Crossing a stream and up through whispering pines I came to another popular frog pond and went into the woods.
I had taken my exploring equipment and a McDonald's yogurt parfait (which after emptying and wiping clean, makes an excellent mini aquarium for observation) into the woods for a relaxing pond sit. I was kept company by racing chipmunks and thumbnail-sized spring peepers who hopped like popcorn through the leaves.
Sitting there, I was entertained by the wood frogs and their never ending circular spinning and chasing and warbling song, I noticed EGGS in the oak leaf-carpeted water! Round, jelly-like globs with dark centers were attached to submerged oak leaves here and there. What a find!
After scooping and sketching the eggs I placed them carefully back in the water and collected a take-home water sample in my official "McDonald's parfait and specimen observation container" for my microscope.
Once home with my sample, I was amazed to see creatures doing their own springtime dance under a 40x power microscope objective on the glass slide.
Squirming, jerking, zipping, rolling, squeezing and propelling endlessly.
All in all it, was a fascinating and complete look of vernal pond life and end of adventure. Life above, below and on the surface.
I hope you take time to GET UP and GET OUT for an egg and treasure hunt this month and see your own Spring Show while it's still playing at a pond nearest you!

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