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Fascinating behaviors of fall

It’s looks like fall finally showed up here in the Southeast! Fall is a fascinating time of year for reptiles and amphibians. In fact, for many species, the summer to fall transition is baby time and for some others, it’s the “Season of Love.”

Some pit vipers, like timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) and copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix), are giving birth as summer winds into fall. Female timber rattlesnakes are also pretty good when it comes to being motherly (as far as snakes are concerned), as babies will stay with them for days or weeks after birth, and it is likely that their mothers may guide them to cover or overwintering sites.

While the vipers are having babies, many salamanders are working on making the next generation. Plethodontid salamanders (often commonly called lungless salamanders…well, for a pretty obvious reason!) like slimy salamanders (Plethodon glutinosis) and southern two-lined salamanders (Eurycea cirrigera) typically use this time of year for mating. Most salamanders have very ritualized mating “dances,” and on humid evenings from August through most of October, they can sometimes be observed engaging in a little tango action along stream edges or in the leaf litter. Usually, the male takes the lead and the female follows him, often straddling his tail. Sometimes these “dances” can last for some time before the male releases a spermatophore, which the female then picks up to fertilize her eggs. If she is a slimy salamander, she will then move her way into some manner of underground shelter to lay her eggs, which she will attend until the babies hatch and beyond. If she is a two-lined salamander, she will move back into the stream she would typically call home and ultimately deposit her eggs on the underside of a rock. She would also attend her eggs until they hatch, which is typically in the spring.

So, as you can see, even though temperatures may drop in the fall, the reptile and amphibian activity ramps up … at least until the real cold sets in as it did this week!
Robert Hill
Assistant Curator of Herpetology

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