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Winter Grotto Salamandering 

A friend of mine (Mick) is a professional cave biologist and during the
winter months I sometimes accompany him with his research. Right now he
is working on a project to assess the impact on cave fauna in caves that are open to the public.  Round
Spring Cave in Shannon County Missouri is one of the six caves being monitored and is the cave we visited just the other day. Round Spring Cave is gated and locked but it is open to the public by means of guided tours held daily throughout the summer months by the National Park Service. Normally grotto salamanders are hard to come by but it seems our visit landed during a peak time for grotto salamander viewing. I was told that if we had visited a month or two earlier we would have found mostly cave salamanders (E. lusifuga) as this is the time they are laying eggs in the caves. The unusual feature of this circumstance is that the egg laying is taking place in quiet pools with deep mud, rather than under rocks in flowing streams, as had been assumed to always be the case. The main evidence is that adults have been observed diving into the mud and are almost always mud-covered, then shortly after the occurrence of adults in the pools peaks, newly hatched larvae start to appear in the same pools, and gradually build in numbers. Mick has not demonstrated for certain that these are E. lucifuga larvae, but it looks like a good bet. Anyhow, when these larva appear the grotto salamanders soon show up, presumably to feed on the cave salamander larva. In the first photo you can see an adult grotto salamander in a pool along with what's thought to be a cave salamander larva. The second photo is of a darker (newly metamorphed?) adult found among larva in another pool.
 
I was also shown some remains (bones) of the extinct short-faced bear in a passage of the cave that is off limits to tours.
 
Most exciting was the discovery of an undescribed beetle; only the second troglobitic beetle ever found in the Ozarks. Sue (Mick’s wife) had found the first only months earlier in another
Shannon County cave, and Mick had been telling me about it on the drive to the cave. Under the microscope it was obvious that the beetle had evolved a complete lack of eyes.
 
Bat Species Seen:
Big Brown Bat
Eastern Pipistrelle
Indiana Bat

Gray Bat

grottoweb.jpg

grottoweb2.jpg

Following is a copy of Mick's notes concerning amphibians from the trip, including totals.

 

Amphibians
 
Entrance passage: none. Stream bed dry
 
Right Fork: stream bed dry at T-junction, grading to static pools, some
deep. 

 

Inlet stream dry. Pool at inlet jct with recently dead
pickerel frog (c. 4.5 cm). Small (12-15 mm) salamander larvae: 1
 
Fountain of Youth pools: small (12-15 mm) salamander larvae: 45 (main
pool 16); Typhlotriton spelaeus adults: 3 (all in pools with small larvae), large Typhlotriton larva: 1
 
Beyond FOY: in static stream bed pools, small larvae: >36; Typhlotriton
adult (in pool with small larvae): 1; Dragon's Mouth pools - lots of
salamander tracks.
 
North branch: static muddy pools, large Typhlotriton larva: 1, small
larvae: 73; Eurycea lucifuga adult in pool, partly mud covered (mud to 3 cm deep).
 
Left Fork to start of Tobacco Barn: Theater Hill pools: small salamander larvae: 44. Main stream: E. lucifuga adults in stream: 2; Typhlotriton adult: 1; unidentified dead frog (slime covered).
 
Totals:        Rana palustris: 1 (dead)
 
               Unidentified frog: 1 (dead)
 
               Typhlotriton spelaeus: 5 adults, 2 large larvae
 
               Eurycea lucifuga: 3 adults
 
               Unidentified Eurycea type larvae: 200