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Into the Outdoors: Ugly Critters

At long last, we are getting around to the promised look at some ugly critters that are often encountered by sucker anglers. The ones I have in mind are the hellbender and the mudpuppy, two large salamanders which inhabit the waters of Pennsylvania.

The hellbender is the official amphibian of Pennsylvania. These salamanders can grow to two feet in length. They feed mainly on crayfish and minnows, although redworms, which is a favored sucker bait, are also on the menu, resulting in encounters with anglers. They are known by a lot of nicknames, but “water dog” is the most common around here. If you catch one, just release it back into the water unharmed. Gloves might be a good idea, as their secretions can be on the foul side. Interestingly, their name probably comes from early settlers, who deemed them “creatures from hell” that were “bent” on going back there.

The other ugly is the mudpuppy, another large salamander. They don’t get as big as the hellbender, and are easily recognized by their external gills.

One of the most delightful things about Spring is what can best be described as frog song.

Most singers in our area are members of the tree frog family. An exception is the northern cricket frog. And all are small.

The cricket frog is actually one of the last ones to start singing, especially here in the northern part of its range. Its song is not really all that musical, somewhat resembling the clicking together of two pebbles.

The real virtuoso, when it comes to singing, is the spring peeper. They are really plentiful around here. They’re tiny, ranging in size from 3/4 inches to 1-1/4 inches long. They have a dark cross on their backs, usually in the form of an X, hence the scientific name, Hyla crucifer.

These frogs congregate around swampy areas where there are cattails or small trees surrounded by water. Male frogs have a vocal sac that looks like a little balloon under the throat when inflated. This is what they use to produce their song.

In the spring, peepers are often joined by chorus frogs. Although often mistaken for peepers, they are a different species and are, in fact, like the cricket frog, not really tree frogs at all. Peepers & chorus frogs will call from the same location.

A lot of folklore surrounds these little frogs and their music. One I find especially intriguing is the belief that the frogs must sing, then look up through the ice once, then sing again. In other words, after they sing the first time, another cold spell is in the offing. After that, when they sing again, the cold weather is done.

Here’s another old spring tale. It is widely believed that usually in April, we experience a little snowstorm. It’s known around here as the Easter storm, although in many other areas it’s called the onion snow.

For a number of years, in the early days of the column, I’d close the first column of the spring with one of my favorite poems, by my all time favorite poet, Robert Frost. I decided to continue the custom this year.


I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;

I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away

(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):

I shan’t be gone long.--You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf

That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young

It totters when she licks it with her tongue.

I shan’t be gone long.--You come too.

NOTE: The disgusting photo below is a follow up to the tick column. It shows a female tick laying eggs. Just look at how many there are.

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