DEER, TREE FROGS AND SALAMANDERS BRING QUESTIONS

by Whit Gibbons

May 7, 2017

I received the following environmental questions in April.

Q: During the mating season for white-tailed deer, is it true that a doe will not let a buck mate with her once she has already mated in a given year? When am I most likely to see a spotted fawn in Alabama?

A: Whitetails generally mate in the fall, although the timing varies regionally and among years and individuals. During the mating season, a doe that is receptive will mate with the same buck multiple times. During this period, the doe will let another buck mate with her if he is not prevented from getting to her by the first buck or if the first one leaves to pursue another doe. Does have their young in late spring or early summer. I have seen fawns from May into July. As with many wildlife species, annual variability in the behavior of individuals and populations depends upon numerous environmental factors.

Q: Can you please help me understand why we now have toads after living almost 50 years in our house near Atlanta? The first one was on the pole of the umbrella on our deck when I cranked it open yesterday. This morning, when I lifted the toilet seat in our second story bathroom, I was startled to see another one. Also, how on earth did it get into our house?

Those are not true toads. (Photos were attached for identification.) They are one of the two species of gray treefrogs. They look more like toads than do the other treefrogs, which are mostly green or brown. Gray treefrogs breed from March to July, and you can often hear them calling during that time. They have a fairly distinctive mating call that you can listen to at http://srelherp.uga.edu/anurans/hylchr.htm. Any of our treefrogs would be able to jump into a house unnoticed if the door was open even for a few seconds. A couple or so jumps later, including jumping from one wall to another, it could be in another room. It would be easy for a gray treefrog to walk up a wall or go unseen for days behind furniture.

They have probably been in your neighborhood all along, but they usually call from trees and are seen only occasionally. It is also possible that a few individuals have successfully immigrated into your area over the last several months and that habitat conditions are suitable for them to stay. Be careful picking up a gray treefrog as their skin produces toxins that can irritate your eyes, mucus membranes or cuts on your skin. But they are cool animals. Nice to live in an area where a treefrog might be a visitor.

Q: I live in South Georgia and am having no luck finding salamanders. Do you have any tips on how to locate them? I thought the Southeast was where salamanders were most common.

A: The highest concentration of these amphibians in the world is indeed in the southeastern United States. In fact, Georgia has at least 50 species. However, as with all wildlife, the abundance is not evenly distributed across the landscape. Some habitats may have appreciably more species of certain groups than others do. South Georgia and Florida are relatively depauperate areas for salamanders. Florida has only 26 species compared to 42 in Alabama and 39 in South Carolina. Higher salamander diversities and abundances are in Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia, each with more than 50 species. Except for an occasional slimy salamander, mole salamander or newt, you are unlikely to find many salamanders in the woods in South Georgia. Most of them will be associated with wetlands, and some live permanently in water.

Salamanders are a special group of animals, and those of us living in the Southeast should appreciate their high biodiversity. This is one group of unusual animals in which we even outpace Australia, which has no salamanders at all.

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