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Close-up of mosquito larvae along the surface water in our ditch yesterday (July 17) afternoon. This density was consistent along the entire length of the ditch that borders the north boundary of our land. Click/double click image to enlarge.

Rains beginning June 19 have kept water levels high throughout much of east central Illinois. Flooding throughout cities has been significant. Low lying areas within rural fields have remained flooded throughout much of this period. Many of these areas have become major mosquito breeding grounds. Fortunately the last few days have brought relief from the rains. Record low temperatures have slowed the rate of mosquito development considerably.

The temporary pond I began observing June 20 has remained throughout this entire time period. It now supports large numbers of aquatic beetles, dragonflies, damselflies, and freshwater crustaceans, in addition to the amphibians I’ve been documenting. Mosquito larvae make up a large part of the diet of many of the predaceous insects.

Our ditch, suddenly flooded and lacking a significant number of predators, became an area of significant  mosquito breeding after last weekend’s rains. The water level dropped significantly last night. This four image set documents changes that occurred within that ditch over the last eighteen hours. Click each image for maximum viewing pleasure!

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Larvae, pupae, and the rear respiratory structure of a larva (oops!) in a thin layer of water on the palm of my hand. Note the larval respiratory breathing tubes at the end of the abdomens. Pupae sport a pair of breathing tubes (see above) at the top of their thorax. Click/double click image to enlarge.

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Mosquito larve and pupae along the surface of the water in our ditch, Thursday afternoon, July 17. Click/double click image to enlarge.

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Mosquito larve and pupae along the bottom of our north ditch this morning, Friday, July 18, after the water level dropped. We don’t need to be concerned about these individuals developing any further. Click/double click image to enlarge.

Like many macrophotography hobbyists with an interest in small animals, my images often lack size perspective. Most readers seeing the images share my interests and already possess a sense of size of the organisms or they can readily gain size animal size perspective relative to plants within the image.

My recent temporary departure into amphibian photography, initiated by the past month’s flooding, caused me to realize the importance of size perspective within an image. Recent close-ups of newly emerged American toads and tiny cricket frogs lack perspective. In an effort to regain that perspective, I share two recently captured close-up images and the original images from which each was taken. As usual, click/double click images to enlarge.

Physical features and markings of this newly emerged American toad are clear...

Physical features and markings of this newly emerged American toad (Anaxyrus americanus) are clear…

though the viewer doesn't see that the image was taken on tiy pieces of crushed limestone that makes up the top layer of many rural driveways and the shoulders of rural tar and chip roads.

though the reader doesn’t know that the image was taken in a field of tiny pieces of crushed limestone that comprise the top layer of many rural driveways (such as ours, in this case) and the shoulders of rural tar and chip roads.

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This calling male Northern cricket frog’s (Acris crepitant) eye, head, and vocal sac detail are readily apparent…

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though the reader has no reason to know that the frogs are truly tiny. This individual was photographed while calling between the blades of grass comprising our freshly mowed lawn.

 

Newly emerged toad. Click/double click to enlarge.

One of the many newly emerged toads. Click/double click to enlarge.

Yesterday’s rain began around midnight. By 10 AM the temporary pond was again full. The additional water would significantly prolong the life of the pond, allowing the majority of American toad and Northern cricket frog tadpoles to complete their aquatic development. All was good.

At 11 AM the rain began again, even heavier this time. Within a few minutes water from the surrounding fields cascaded across the temporary pond, into our east ditch, and through the culvert underneath the driveway. Water, moving at a rate of hundreds of gallons per minute, drove across the ditch on the west side of our driveway and into the underground drainage system, carrying tadpoles with it.

By noon the rain stopped and I anxiously surveyed the extent of flooding. Most of our acreage was flooded. I was relieved to see well formed, maturing tadpoles swimming along the entire length of our ditch. As I leaned down to look more closely, a tiny toad hopped from the grass at the edge of the ditch and stared up at me. Within several minutes I was surrounded by a number of newly emerged small toads.

The first toad to emerge from the roadside vegetation staring up at me. Click/double click to enlarge.

The first toad to emerge from the roadside vegetation staring up at me. Click/double click to enlarge.

Tiny toads are now present in large numbers across our acreage. My initial estimate of a few thousand tadpoles may have been conservative. The unanticipated flood dispersed the emerging tadpoles across a much larger area than most would have been able to traverse on their own.

And the adult toads and Northern cricket frogs are back again in quantity, calling and breeding. We haven’t experienced this amount of amphibian reproduction, or a second significant amphibian breeding cycle, during the thirty years we’ve lived here. It’s certainly turning out to be quite an adventure!

 

 

 

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This individual, looking like some type of early fishphibian, moved back and forth through less than ¼” of water until it encountered a decomposing piece of grass, and then crawled partially out of the water. It remained partially above water for ten minutes before swimming back into the depths. Click/double click to enlarge.

Last night temperatures dipped into the upper 50s. It was cold and the temporary pond was quiet for the first time in its three week existence. Almost all the American toad tadpoles had retreated to the depths, but a few, all showing some degree of adult coloration, moved toward the shore. Propelled by their rear legs, all showed some degree of front leg development. A few of the variations encountered are shown below.

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A number of individuals had more spherical proportions. like this disc-shaped individual. Click/double click image to enlarge.

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Several were much more streamlined and toadlike already. Interestingly, this individual, unlike the two pictured above, was still entirely aquatic. Click/double click image to enlarge.

Several better developed individuals moved onto the shore and hopped into our prairie area. The mass emergence begins!

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Heavy rain, in combination with

Overnight the thousands of velvet black tadpoles I see feeding at the edge of the temporary pond each morning have developed hind legs and the start of adult coloration. Image taken July 10, 2014. Click/double click to enlarge.

The heavy rains that began June 19, in combination with extreme soil compaction at the corner of an agricultural field bordering our prairie, led to development of a temporary pond that has persisted far longer than any other temporary pond we have seen over the past thirty years. Photos from the entry “Localized flooding brings about unprecedented amphibian viewing opportunities” show a number of the courting animals I photographed in that pond during the first week.

American toads (Anaxyrus americanus) were the first animals to arrive in number, calling and breeding in large numbers from June 19 through June 27. Northern cricket frog (Acris crepitant) calling and reproductive activities began June 25 and continue this evening. The water level dropped precariously on July 7 (see below), but rain that evening brought the level back up to floodwater height.

July 7 water level prior to the evening rain.

July 7 water level prior to the evening rain.

July 8 water level after the rain. Our estimate based on Wally, the only tool available to us, is that the pool exceeded a foot in depth in some areas.

July 8 water level after the rain. Our estimate based on the Wallyometer is that the pond exceeded a foot in depth in some areas.

Rain is forecast for the next three days. It’s looking like we will have hundreds, if not thousands, of tadpoles maturing in the next few weeks IF water levels remain sufficient. I do have two tasteful pink pools in one of our kennel runs, already filled with water, if the rains don’t come through as predicted…

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One of the many early morning feeding aggregations at the junction between the pond and our prairie patch. Image captured July 10, 2014. Click/double click to enlarge.

Deceased 6/26/2014...

Deceased 6/26/2014…

I started my 56th year of life with a splash, by drowning my camera.

Around midnight, while visions of sugar plums were dancing in the heads of the rest of the family, I heard an unfamiliar clicking coming from the temporary pond at the edge of our property. I grabbed a flashlight, my point and shoot camera, and my macro camera with lights. As has now become habit, I waded into the pond with my macro set-up and a flashlight, ready for a prolonged waiting session, and determination to figure out what was making that sound. The toads, as usual, were in a mating frenzy. I put my hand near one, which immediately swam over and grasped it. I photographed a number of couples who were so wound up regarding mating that I knew the evening wouldn’t be wasted, even if I didn’t hear the new clicking sound again.

Then the clicking began about a foot away from me. The first click was answered by a second click a few feet away, which in turn was answered by a third click. Suddenly these new animals were chorusing and I was in the middle of the chorus triangle. I’ve become pretty quick with the flashlight over the last few nights and directed my beam in the direction of the clicking midsession. Like the toads, these unknown creatures continued chorusing from start to finish regardless of the intensity of light and the water movement caused as I moved toward them.

I crouched low, trying to find whatever was making that noise. I knew that my flashlight had to be positioned correctly based on the location of the clicking. I looked for evidence of a pale vocal sac expanding and contracting in time to the clicking chorus. And then I saw it. It had been right in front of me all the time. The sound was coming from a tiny brown and green frog who sang for almost a full minute, undeterred by the flash of my lights as I moved through the water around it. The frog stopped, moved forward about an inch, turned sideways, and began to sing. I lowered myself into the water so that I was almost level with the frog and got the shot I was hoping for. It was perfect.

The frog jumped into the water and swam off to another area of vegetation. I waded back to the shore, swapping my macro set-up for my point and shoot so that I could record the clicking song and may be even capture some video of the new frog species. I waded back out, the amphibian chorus began immediately, and I captured the desired audio immediately. Pushing the envelope, I moved forward to capture some chorusing footage. The point and shoot’s video capability is pretty limited, but I didn’t care. I was having fun. I moved along an upraised ridge of underwater grass, lowered myself into the water, and prepared for the chorusing to begin. This was going to fantastic.

And then the upraised grass ridge gave way, sliding backward into the pond. I lurched forward, but had nothing to grab onto. One hand held the camera, while the other held the flashlight. I held tightly onto each as I plunged forward into the water. I wasn’t going to let go of either. My hands plunged into the water and I caught myself, as my hands plunged close to a foot deep into the soft mud. As I pulled my mud-covered hands out of the water, I saw that the flashlight was still on and the camera was still recording video. For a few moments anyway…

It’s all captured on video at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=720945981295590&set=vb.100001405858431&type=2&theater. The battery and memory card seem fine. The camera lies in a bowl of rice on the kitchen counter. And I’m now 56.

Recent heavy rainfall and localized flooding resulted in increased apparent amphibian diversity and unprecedented levels of courtship and reproductive activities within local ponds. Much of the activity near our yard has taken place withinin a small temporary pond at the corner of a cornfield adjoining our small prairie. The following images and observations were recorded between June 20 and June 28, 2014.

June 20 - Last night's inch of rain resulted in puddling in the low areas at the edges of the local corn fields. The night air is filled with the trilling of hundreds of amorous male toads. I didn't even have to leave the yard this evening to capture the image of this calling male. Click/double click image to enlarge.

June 20 – Last night’s inch of rain resulted in puddling in the low areas at the edges of the local corn fields. The night air is filled with the trilling of hundreds of amorous male American toads (Bufo americanus). Click/double click image to enlarge.

June 24 - t's a beautiful night just north of Urbana, IL. The afternoon rain raised water levels considerably higher, bringing the water level in the corn field that adjoins our property to a little under 3'. We have a strip of grass separating that field from our prairie. This evening dozens of breeding toads were being supported by the floating ends of our taller prairie grasses. The area was so packed with breeding toads that I was able to easily wade up to them and photograph them again from less that a foot away. They paid no attention to me whatsoever. At one point there were fourteen calling males within 3' of me. This is certainly the best flood ever! Click/double click image to enlarge.

June 24 – t’s a beautiful night just north of Urbana, IL. The afternoon rain raised water levels considerably higher, bringing the water level in the corn field that adjoins our property to a little under 3′. This evening dozens of breeding toads were being supported by the floating ends of our taller prairie grasses. The area was so packed with breeding toads that I was able to easily wade up to them and photograph them again from less that a foot away. They paid no attention to me whatsoever. At one point there were fourteen calling males within 3′ of me. Click/double click image to enlarge.

June 27 - 1 AM toad yoga. Come join us! Even guys can look good doing yoga. Well, kinda... Click/double click image to enlarge.

June 27 – 1 AM toad yoga. Toad breeding activity has reduced significantly, though the water level remains high. Floating organic matter has formed a thin mat upon which the remaining males continue to call. Click/double click image to enlarge.

June 28 - The early summer clicking calls we hear throughout east central Illinois each evening are the calls of male Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans). These minute calling tree frogs are smaller than a quarter, legs included, and range in color from brown, green, red, and yellow to the multicolored form pictured below. I’ve been fortunate to find the full range of colors in the temporary pool in the cornfield adjoining our house. This male was not only thoughtful enough to turn sideways for the picture, he continued to call in the ladies despite my presence. Perfect! Click/double click image to enlarge.

June 28 – Toad trilling is being replaced by the early summer clicking calls of male Northern Cricket Frogs (Acris crepitans). These minute calling tree frogs are smaller than a U.S. quarter, legs included, and range in color from brown, green, red, and yellow to the multicolored form pictured below. I’ve been fortunate to find the full range of colors in the temporary pond adjoining our house. This male was not only thoughtful enough to turn sideways for the picture, he continued to call in the ladies despite my presence. Perfect! Click/double click image to enlarge.

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