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Spotted Salamander Spermatophores

4-23 spotted salamander spermatophores 058After male spotted salamanders emerge from hibernation and arrive at their ancestral breeding (vernal) pools, they cluster in groups called congresses, await the arrival of females, pair up with one and then the pair performs a courtship dance.

Unlike some species of amphibians, the male spotted salamander does not fertilize the eggs as the female lays them. Rather, she collects his sperm into her body and internal fertilization takes place. When the female is sufficiently stimulated, the male deposits up to 80 spermatophores (pyramid-shaped plugs of mucus with a sperm capsule at the top), often on a submerged branch. The male maximizes the chances of insemination by depositing many scattered spermatophores, covering every spermatophore he encounters, even his own, with a new spermatophore. In so doing, he increases his spermatophore count, while simultaneously eliminating a rival’s spermatorphores. The female then crawls over a spermatophore and positions her vent, or cloaca, so as to allow the lips of her cloaca to detach the sperm capsule.

Within a short period of time the salamanders retreat back to the woods, rarely to be glimpsed until next spring’s breeding season. (Photo: spotted salamander spermatorphores, with sperm capsule missing on far left spermatophore)

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8 responses

  1. Kathie Fiveash

    Well. I have never seen the sperm capsule before. I always thought the whole spermatophore was what the female picked up, and have often looked at the many little white blobbies left on the pool floor and thought they were unused spermatophores. I love the thought of the delicacy of the cloacal gesture the female must make, sight unseen, to take only the sperm capsule and leave the rest behind.

    April 23, 2015 at 9:33 am

    • Exactly, Kathie. You have a poetic soul!

      April 23, 2015 at 9:48 am

  2. Dianne and Ed

    HI MARY,

    A very timely post, as my daughter and I spent part of last evening crossing Spotties, Spring Peepers…:-) These amphibians are such a marvel of nature…..

    How can you tell male from female ‘Spottie’?

    Thanks for your reply, Dianne

    April 23, 2015 at 10:14 am

    • Thanks for your good deed last night! In general, females are larger than males, but that’s all pretty relative. If a female is gravid (with eggs) she is noticeably fat, but other than that, I honestly don’t know, Dianne.

      April 23, 2015 at 1:34 pm

  3. Rita Pitkin

    Congresses?!! Haha- had to laugh!

    April 23, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    • Didn’t mean to insult the salamanders!

      April 23, 2015 at 5:01 pm

  4. Nature is endlessly fascinating! Did you have a nice holiday? You were missed. 🙂

    April 23, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    • Thanks, Eliza. Yes, lots of play to balance out the work!

      April 23, 2015 at 8:22 pm

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