Eastern Ribbon Snake
The charming and vivacious ribbon snake
Common Name: Eastern ribbon snake
Scientific Name: Thamnophis sauritus sauritus
Size: Adults 2' or more
Range: Most of the Eastern United States
Diet: 90% frogs, toads, and salamanders. Usually small or metamorphosing individuals.
- Habitat - Semi-aquatic, prefers areas with brushy vegetation at the edge of fresh water wetlands for concealment. One of the more common snakes found in and around our local vernal pools (all snakes can swim).
- Abundance - Generally common. Hibernate underground from October to March.
- Breeding - After emergence from hibernation. Young are born live from July to September.
- Similar Species - Garter snake (also genus Thamnophis). Ribbons are more slender, have a bolder pattern, longer tails, and the lips are unpatterned.
- Comments - An agile, nervous snake, seldom wanders more than a few hundred feet from water. Fleeing ribbon snakes skirt shorelines, threading their way through vegetation, disappearing from sight with amazing speed.
References: Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians-Eastern/Central North America, Roger Conant. Audubon Field Guide to New England, Peter Alden & Brian Cassie. Amphibians and Reptiles of New England, Habitats, and Natural History, DeGraaf and Rudis.Photograph by Colleen Anderson
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Aquatic Spotted salamander larva (right). Those feathery-looking things growing out of its neck are gills.
A newly metamorphosed Spotted salamander (left) is 2.5” long. Now a land animal, the gills are gone and the lungs are fully functional.
Common Name: Spotted salamander
Scientific Name: Ambystoma maculatum
Size: Adults 6 - 7.75” Record 9.75”
Lifespan: 20 years
Range: All of New England and most of the Eastern United States
Diet: Earthworms, snails, slugs, insects, spiders, larval and adult beetles
- Habitat - Moist woods, beneath stones and logs. Prefers deciduous or mixed woods and shallow woodland ponds. Terrestrial hibernator. Usually breeds in vernal ponds.
- Relative Abundance - Common- though secretive. Populations declining due to habitat destruction and over-collecting.
- Breeding - Mass breeding migrations to pools occur from March to early April throughout New England. Eggs are laid in large masses of jelly, sometimes milky, sometimes clear, attached to underwater stems. Each female lays one to ten masses. About 100 eggs per mass.
- Eggs Hatch - 31-54 days depending on water temperature.
- Larval Period - 61-110 days. Usually metamorphose into adults from July to September. They are known to overwinter as larvae.
- Comments - Nocturnal, usually found above ground only during migrations to and from breeding pools. Individuals have been found up to 1/4 mile from the nearest breeding pool.
- Obligate Species - Spotted salamanders are considered, for the purpose of certification, an obligate vernal pond species. Their egg masses are proof of the existence of a vernal pond, as long as the pond meets physical requirements, such as a confined basin depression with no permanent inlet or outlet.
Reference: Amphibians and Reptiles of New England, Habitats and Natural History. DeGraaf and RudisPhotographs by Colleen Anderson
Raise your hand if you’re a Blue-spotted salamander.
Or alternate caption: Hey! We’re the Featured Creature. Gimme a high four!
Common Name: Blue-spotted salamander
Scientific Name: Ambystoma laterale
Size: Adults average 2” from snout to vent (4-5” tip to tip)
Range: Northeastern United States and Southeastern Canada, more or less
Diet: Earthworms, sowbugs, and centipedes
- Habitat - Wooded, swampy or moist areas. Ponds or semi-permanent water, including vernal ponds, for breeding.
- Breeding - During early spring rains when the temperatures are above freezing.
- Reproduction - Eggs laid in March and early April. Hatch in about one month.
- Larval Period - Extends from late June to mid-August.
- Comments - Acid precipitation and habitat loss are major threats to this species. Masschusetts vernal pond obligate species. State-listed as a species of concern.
Reference: Amphibians and Reptiles of New England, Habitats and Natural History. DeGraaf and Rudis
Photograph by Sharron Cohen
We found this Spotted turtle in a vernal pond in West Gloucester
while working on CAVPT surveys with Dan Wells of Hyla Ecological Services.
She was at the bottom of the pool under 18” of water.
The growth rings on her shell indicate she is 18 years old.
Common Name: Spotted turtle
Scientific Name: Clemmys guttata
Size: Adults average about 3 1/2” to 5 1/2” long
Lifespan: It can take 7 to 10 years for a spotted turtle to reach sexual maturity. They are not particularly long-lived for a turtle, maybe 25 years. Their populations are not likely to bounce back unless measures are taken to protect the turtles and the habitat.
Range: Eastern United States (more or less)
Diet: Crustaceans, mollusks, spiders, earthworms, aquatic insects, occasionally frogs, tadpoles, small fish, carrion and vegetation.
- Habitat - Unpolluted small shallow bodies of water such as woodland streams, wet meadows, bog holes, vernal ponds, marshes, and swamps.
- Abundance - Populations are declining due to habitat destruction (development, and draining and filling of wetlands), over collecting, and roadkill.
- Breeding - March to May
- Reproduction - Deposits eggs on land in June or July. Average clutch size is 2 to 5 eggs. Incubation period of 70-83 days - hatching in late August. Overwintering in the nest may occur.
- Comments - Wanders over land to different wetlands. May breed in one wetland, feed in one or more wetlands, and overwinter in yet another. Hibernates in muddy wetland bottoms under the ice. May aestivate during the hottest months of summer.
Reference: Amphibians and Reptiles of New England, Habitats and Natural History. DeGraaf and RudisPhotograph by Ron Camille
Lovely little frog
Common Name: Gray treefrog
Scientific Name: Hyla versicolor
Size: Adults average about 1 3⁄4” long
Lifespan: Typical 7 - 9 years
Range: Eastern United States and Canada, more or less. Locally common throughout the range, but hard to find in some places (like Cape Ann).
Diet: Eats mostly small insects and spiders
Photograph by Nicci Cataldo
- Habitat - Various kinds of wooded and forested areas. Hides in tree holes, under bark and in rotten logs when inactive. Sticky feet, often found clinging to moss, lichen, bark, or manmade structures such as the side of a house, a door, or a wooden fence.
- Features - Able to change color from gray to green to match its background, making them almost impossible to spot unless they move or make a noise. Inside of legs is bright orange, visible when they jump or climb. Newly metamorphosed juveniles are emerald green.
- Breeding - They breed in freshwater wetlands, often vernal ponds. The breeding call of the male is a short percussive trill that lasts just a few seconds, as opposed to a toad’s trill, which can last 30 to 60 seconds.
- Similar Species - Cope's gray treefrog looks identical but you can tell them apart by their calls - the Gray treefrog's call has a slower trill that is more musical than Cope's. The Gray treefrog is also a little larger, has bumpier skin, and scientists note it has twice as many chromosones as Cope's.
- Comments - Can change its color in seconds and tends to become darker when it is cold and dark.