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Mysterious & beautiful creatures are found in pond at midnight

Many people are familiar with the forests around them. They enjoy walks during the day, exploring and gazing at the beauty and serenity of the woods. For those lucky enough to experience true wilderness, the only sounds are often the songs of the birds and the footsteps of distant animals. Sitting or moving quietly can even provide a glimpse of the life that lives in the forest. The benefits of such beauty are greater than we ever imagined, with experts now telling us that "forest bathing" works wonders for our emotional wellbeing and happiness. Spending time in nature is now toted as one of the best ways to cure or prevent depression. As an added benefit, our curiosity about the world around us will be piqued and we will learn a lot about the life that shares our planet. These researchers are well aware of the fascinating world within the trees by day, but they took to the woods in the darkness to witness one of the most spectacular and little known events that happen within days of the ice melting on the surface of the forest's vernal pools. It is the great spring salamander migration. Experts estimate that salamanders make up the greatest amount of a forest's vertebrate biomass. This makes them one of the most important food sources and a critical part of the health of entire ecosystems. The yellow spotted salamander is rarely seen. They spend most of the year hidden beneath leaf litter, logs, or in burrows. They must keep their skin moist to breathe and they shy away from heat and light. There can literally be more than a billion of them in a large forest, yet we might go our whole lives without sighting one. Within days of the spring thaw, especially after a rain, salamanders make their annual nightly migration to meet in the water for an event that lasts only 2-3 nights. Preferring ponds without fish, in hardwood areas, the salamanders make the trek to breed. They enter the water where they began life as a tadpole. The males cluster and deposit sperm as the females lay egg masses attached to twigs, leaves or other underwater structures. There can be hundreds of salamanders in a cluster and tens of thousands in a large pond at any time. They gather on the bottom in shallow water, swimming to the surface when they need to breathe. They quickly return to the bottom to fertilize the eggs. This will go on for several days before the salamanders make their way back to their feeding areas. They will hibernate all winter, emerging again in the spring to repeat the process. These researchers have carefully made their way along the forest path to a pond deep in the woods that rarely sees people. They must watch their step as salamanders cover the ground in some spots. The biologists slowly wade into the water, careful not to disturb or endanger the fragile creatures. They observe and count the animals, making comparisons with other years and other locations. What we are learning now about these amphibians may be critical to forest conservation on the whole. Altering one small body of water could adversely affect an entire food web in a forest. And scientists are carefully looking at the salamanders' ability to regenerate limbs and organs, including their brain. In addition to the salamanders in this pond, the biologists found giant water beetles, cadis fly larvae, a snapping turtle, newts, frogs, and toads. There was even a pair of owls each night that called out in the darkness. On one of the nights, the owl silently landed on a tree branch just above them and watched them curiously. Distant coyotes on the hunt howled and yipped. The forest near you is beautiful by day, but it is also mysterious and active in the dark of night. There is more life around us than we ever imagined.
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