GAME HAS MANY RULES
of the biggest and one of the smallest salamanders in the world have
a feature in common. No one knows how they mate or exactly where and
when they lay their eggs. The large one is the greater siren. The tiny
one is Chamberlains dwarf salamander.
as a group are seldom-seen yet fascinating amphibians that should be
appreciated as an exceptional part of the southeastern fauna. Australia
has an abundance of unusual animals, but no salamanders are found anywhere
on the continent. Each time I catch a salamander, I feel a sense of
intrigue, for I know it is holding ecological secrets.
at the edge of a swamp, I watched a greater siren as thick as a soft
drink can and longer than a chair leg creep along the muddy bottom of
a pool of water in search of I know not what. I watched from the bank
for several minutes, following its sinuous movements with my flashlight.
I assumed it was looking for food a crawfish or freshwater clam
but my hope was that it would encounter another greater siren
of the opposite sex.
the immense size of this native salamander of the Southeast, few people
ever see one in the wild, and no one has seen them mate. Consequently,
ecologists know next to nothing about their breeding habits, other than
that they lay their eggs in the water.
dwarf salamanders are no larger than a wooden kitchen match. Despite
their much smaller size, they are a bit easier to find--if you use the
right technique in the right place. Ive watched my grandsons capture
a dozen or more in a few minutes by sorting through wet sphagnum moss
in the swamp.
check the adults to see if they are females carrying eggs. If they are,
I ponder when they were fertilized, where they will lay them and how
long they will take to hatch. I dont know the answers, but no
one else does, either. I find satisfaction in knowing that the opportunity
for biological discovery still awaits.
the mating systems and social structure of animals is an intriguing
area of ecological and behavioral research. Mating among animals is
by no means a random, haphazard process. Within each species, mating
strategies and patterns often highly complex and intricate
have been shaped and molded throughout the species evolutionary
history. Each year, as our knowledge across the spectrum of species
is increased, patterns begin to take shape.
like Canada geese, are generally monogamous, often remaining with the
same mate for life. Male wild donkeys may keep a harem of females and
physically prevent younger males from mating with them.
of mating also varies among species. Most frogs breed at night. Most
birds breed during the day. Zebras breed year round. Garter snakes mate
in the spring. Canebrake rattlesnakes look for mates in the fall.
for ecologists is to collect information about when, where and how mating
occurs, and then find out if and how parental care is expressed. Being
an ecological voyeur trying to determine the social structure of animal
populations and unravel the complexities and relationships among individuals
can be gratifying. Each new discovery about the breeding pattern of
one species helps develop our understanding of its ecology and may give
us insight about how other species reproduce.
has a mating story. However, in spite of our having discovered enough
about breeding systems to identify patterns and classify them into categories,
the basic observations of individual behaviors and strategies remain
to be discovered for most species. Without question, mating patterns
exist of which we are still unaware. One day, when someone adds the
greater siren and Chamberlains dwarf salamander reproductive stories
to the list, we may discover that one of our native wetland species
has a fascinating breeding story of its own.
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