This weekend, our good friend Brendan visited from E. TX. While he was here, we went to a few places to find some of the neat biodiversity in the area.
The highlight of the outings for me was going up to AL to search for the rare Red Hills Salamander, the only species in its genus. This salamander excavates and maintains tunnels in the steep sides of some hills in Southern Alabama. It's rare because it has some very specific habitat requirements that only occur in parts of Alabama, some of which has unfortunately been destroyed. Unlike many other rare and protected species, this species doesn't occur on any large tracts of protected public land. It occurs almost exclusively on private lands, and fortunately many of the land owners have cooperated in trying to preserve the habitat.
Red Hills Salamander (Phaeognathus hubrichti)
This past summer I went to find River Frogs. I saw adults and one school of small tadpoles. River Frogs are unique for the genus Rana in having schooling tadpoles. This weekend, we stopped by our River Frog spot, and were excited to see multiple schools of >100 tadpoles, this time much larger.
River Frog larva (Rana heckscheri)
We also saw some more common, but still enjoyable species, like this Three-lined Salamander (Eurycea guttolineata)
This male Southern Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) is sporting the seasonally present cirri (pointed structures extending down from upper lip), for which it gets part of its scientific name.
I was glad to see that some neat plants were in bloom in some of the wet areas. I always enjoy ladies' tresses orchids (Spiranthes sp.). They may not be as showy as some of the larger, more colorful species, but the spiral arrangement of delicate white flowers is really cool in my opinion.
Ever since my friend Ben Hess pointed out some sort of blue gentian to me in an Indiana fen, I've enjoyed seeing gentians. I could be way off, but I think this is called Harvestbells (gentiana saponaria). Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.