My 13 Favorite Photos of 2016

My 13 Favorite photos of 2016

13: One Fish Says “No”: I took this photo while trying to get the hang of an underwater camera housing. I like how one fish stands out from the others.
One Fish Says "Nope"

12: Brood V Cicada: This photo shows the very first Brood V Cicada I saw in my life. I saw many more during the big Brood V emergence, but I was excited to find this first one.
Brood V Cicada

11: Bubblehead Gray Treefrog: I photographed this frog at the CWRU Farm.
"Bubblehead" Gray Treefrog

10: Spring Salamander in Hand: I saw this big adult in Allegany County, New York. I usually see larval spring salamanders at this site, so it was a real treat to see the adult.
Spring Salamander on hand

9: Spider Swinging in the rain: I watched this spider through several rain storms in South Carolina. It displayed an interesting rain-dodging posture.
Rain posture in yellow garden spider

8: Male unisexual Ambystoma: Most of the “unisexual” hybrid Ambystoma salamanders are females, but very rarely a male does show up. This is the only male hybrid Ambystoma I’ve seen after looking at thousands of them over several years.
Male hybrid Ambystoma

7: Predators causing smaller metamorphosis in toads: These two toads are the same age and metamorphosed on the same day. But the smaller toad grew up in an environment with predators, and the larger toad grew up without predators.
Toadlets come out smaller with predators

6: Underwater Eggscape: Playing with an underwater camera housing gave me a different view of some wood frog eggs close to hatching.
Underwater Eggscape:  Wood Frog Eggs

5: Cuban Treefrog in Cleveland: This invasive frog showed up in Cleveland on a shipment of plants from Florida.
Cuban Treefrog Comes To Cleveland

4: Trapped by the past (Mayapples):
Occasionally, Mayapple shoots will grow through old leaves and get trapped.
Trapped by the past I

3: Painted Turtles on a Log: Two little and one big painted turtle at the CWRU Farm.
Painted Turtles

2: Cricket Frog: I spotted this little frog in the Jean Lafitte National Park, near New Orleans, Louisiana.
Cricket Frog

1: Alligator: This was the first alligator I have seen in the wild in many years. Like the cricket frog, I saw it in the Jean Lafitte National Park. While watching the alligator, I had a great time talking with a person who grew up in the area. He told me stories of how he and his brother would go catch and release them, much like I do with frogs. He had a real appreciation for the creatures.
American Alligator

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Recognizing individual salamanders by their belly spots

One of the questions we are investigating in my herpetology lab is whether we can recognize individual salamanders based on the pattern of spots on their bellies. We have been studying a population of smallmouth salamanders (Ambystoma texanum) and unisexual Ambystoma salamanders. These salamanders have very distinct patterns of pale blue spots on dark gray to black bellies.

The photo below shows how these belly patterns can be used to identify individuals. Can you guess which of the photos with letters A through D matches the salamander at the top?

Individual Pattern Recognition

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Cuban Treefrog comes to Cleveland

A Caribbean frog showed up in Cleveland, Ohio, last week. A colleague stopped by my lab in the CWRU Biology Department with the news that an unusual treefrog had showed up in a Cleveland flower shop after hitching a ride from Florida. Of course we wanted to see this frog!

We immediately realized that it was a Cuban Treefrog (Osteopilus septentrionalis). Cuban Treefrogs are not native to the United States, but were introduced from Cuba. Since their introduction, Cuban Treefrogs have spread and become an invasive species that is harming native frogs in Florida. Cuban Treefrogs and other amphibians are frequently transported in shipments of plant and gardening materials. For example, I have received several reports of Pacific Chorus Frogs being moved around in Christmas Trees.

Here are some photos of the Cuban TreeFrog that visited Cleveland:

Cuban Treefrog Comes To Cleveland

Another veiw of the CLE Cuban Treefrog

Map Cuban Treefrog Florida to Cleveland Ohio

Map showing the distanced the Cuban Treefrog traveled from Florida to Ohio. Map modified from

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Zombie Cicadas and the end of Brood V

As mentioned in an earlier post, I spotted my first BroodV cicadas in Warrensville Heights, Ohio (and entered the cicada observations into inaturalist). Using a helpful website on periodical cicadas, I was able to ID the Warrensville Heights cicadas as Magicicada septendecim, based on the thick orange bands on their abdomen and the orange color on their thorax behind the eye. Although this was pretty exciting, we only saw two living cicadas plus one cicada wing.

Magicicada septendecim

I didn’t see the full swarming of the Brood V periodical cicadas until a little later in June when I visited the Cleveland Metropark’s South Chagrin Reservation. Here is a video with the sound of their calls:

Some of the cicadas at South Chagrin were starting to die, and their orange-and-black bodies were easy to see on the ground and in the stream:

Brood V: After the ball is over

A couple days later I visited the Cleveland Metropark’s Bedford Reservation. Brood V Cicada calls could be heard scattered around the reservation, intense in some areas, subdued elsewhere. The cicada exuviae (shed exoskeletons from the larval life stage) were still attached to trees and other plants. I was struck by this shed cicada skin clinging to a vandalized tree:

Nearing the end: Magicicada septendecim

In other areas, there were huge piles of dead cicadas mixed with cicada exuviae. Not only can the huge numbers of cicadas provide a boost of food for forest animals, but the dead cicadas also fertilize forest plants.

Nearing the end: Magicicada septendecim

Nearing the end: Magicicada septendecim

Beyond the enormous piles of cicada bodies, I was most struck by how many cicadas were continuing the crawl and fly while missing big parts of their bodies (like their abdomen!). The two videos below show some of this “zombie cicada” behavior. I shared this with a colleague who is an entomologist & neurobiologist. He remarked that the “zombie” behavior emphasizes just how neurologically different insects are from people and other mammals.

A Brood V cicada with an empty abdomen:

A still-living Brood V cicada crawling on the ground as a yellowjacket wasp eats it.

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Rain Posture in Yellow Garden Spider

Earlier this summer, I was able to observe a yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) that built its web next to my parents’ front door. I noticed that it displayed a peculiar behavior in each of several heavy rainstorms. Instead of fleeing its web when the big raindrops started to pour down, the spider stayed near the center of its web. It let go of the web with its front legs, but continue to hold with its hind legs. This peculiar behavior resulted in the spider hanging perpendicular to the ground. I watched the spider do this through several heavy rainstorms, so it wasn’t just a one-time fluke. Such a distinct behavior may be an adaptation to deal with the rain. For example, perhaps this behavior reduces the amount of the spider’s body vulnerable to hits from raindrops. If it reduces hits from raindrops, the spider may be less likely to be injured or knocked from its web.

Here is a photo of the spider in its normal posture, when there is no rain:

Yellow garden spider after the rain

And here is a photo of the spider in a heavy rain, with its body oriented perpendicular to the ground.

Rain posture in yellow garden spider

Here is a video of the behavior:

I also wondered if this behavior had been observed in other spiders. After searching a bit, I found that two spider biologists, Robinson and Robinson, had described this behavior in a 1974 paper on Giant Wood Spiders in New Guinea:

From our observations on Argiope argentata in Panama, we know that some spiders may adopt special rainfall postures if they remain in their webs and do not seek shelter under nearby vegetation. Thus Argiope argentata hangs away from its sloping web so that the body is almost perpendicular and legs I and II, which are always directed anteriorly, are off the web. In the rainfall posture these two pairs of legs are held outstretched in line with the midlateral plane of the body and at a fairly acute angel to the long axis, i.e., they are held more anteriorly than in the normal resting attitude. This position could be interpreted as minimizing the cross-sectional area exposed to the rain – assuming that tropical rains fall more-or-less vertically – or that the spider in this position maximizes the flow of water off its body surface with the anterior appendages forming a sort of drip-tip. We have since seen this behavior in Nephilia clavipes, and Leucauge species.

To wrap this post up, here is a final photo of the spider eating (note that the spider only has seven legs):

Argiope aurantia eating prey

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