It goes without saying that readers of Naturally Curious are well informed and
very observant! This is, in fact, a
sperm packet, or spermatophore, of the spotted salamander. Males usually arrive at vernal pools before
the females, and gather in groups called congresses, ranging from 4 or 5
salamanders to 100 or more. When a female approaches a congress of males, she pairs up with a single male, and
they do a courtship dance in which they circle and nudge each other. Eventually the male walks away, slowly
wiggling the tip of his tail. If the female is sufficiently stimulated, she follows. He then deposits one or more
spermatophores onto a leaf or twig. The female picks up the sperm packet into her cloaca, or vent. In a day or two, the
female lays 30 to 250 eggs, often in an oval mass anywhere from 2 inches in diameter up to the size of a baseball.
It is surrounded by a relatively firm gelatinous matrix (wood frog eggs, which are similar, lack this surrounding gelatinous envelope, and therefore
appear quite lumpy). The spotted salamander’s egg mass is attached to a stick or vegetation under the water; the eggs will hatch in 4 to 8 weeks, depending
on water temperature. The half-inch long larvae have feathery, external gills; in 5 to 10 weeks they will leave pool as
2 to 3-inch salamanders.
Mystery Photo: Cedar Apple Rust
David Fontaine, of Ferrisburgh, Vermont, submitted a mystery photo of a cedar-apple
rust gall that overwinters on cedar trees and is caused by a fungus which
requires two hosts, eastern red cedar and apple trees, to complete its life
cycle. When the galls get wet from spring rains, orange, spore-filled fingers or horns, called telia, emerge from pores in the gall. As the horns absorb water, they become jelly-like and swollen. When
the jelly dries, the spores are carried by the wind to apple trees, where they
cause a brownish mottling on apples, referred to as cedar apple rust, which
makes apples difficult for growers to sell, even though it doesn’t affect the
flavor or texture of infected apples. The rust produces spores on the underside of apple leaves in late summer,which, if they land on eastern red cedar trees, cause galls to form, thereby continuing the cycle. Spores produced on apple do not infect apple, only cedar; spores produced on cedar infect only apple.