Ames Free Library

"Where the Community Connects"

A Glimpse of Nature- Small Worlds

 Most visitors to the Ames Free Library know and love Queset Garden’s reflecting pool which is a lovely spot to visit in all seasons.


 Reflecting Pool at Queset Garden

As we’ve previously noted, the reflecting pool supports a robust population of American toad tadpoles throughout the spring.

Nearby is a neglected little concrete pool that is all but invisible, being wedged between the sloping lawn and a small boxwood hedge.



 Mini Pool

Filled with decaying leaves and wind-blown trash, this water feature isn’t much to look at . . . and, what purpose on earth do those wires serve? Was the pool aerated? Did it have a fountain?

Yet, this seemingly insignificant body of water, just 8 x 3 feet, conceals some surprises. It first attracted my attention when I heard a gray treefrog singing in that direction. Here is what that species sounds like. They were recently singing in the garden and will continue to do so whenever the weather is sultry.



I followed the sound and found the frog sitting on the pool’s retaining wall. This took a moment, for the gray treefrog is a very well-camouflaged critter that closely resembles gray lichen.



 Gray Treefrog, June 1, 2021

That first sighting was on June 1, 2021. By July, 2021 and throughout most of last summer, a green frog took up residence. Do you see it?



 Green Frog, July 31, 2021

Here it is concealed against its mossy background. Note that ridge running from its eye, along its back, and towards the hind leg. This feature distinguishes it from a bullfrog.



 Green Frog, July 31, 2021

I expected to see the green frog back in place this year but, instead, discovered an American toad in early April.



 American Toad, April 1, 2022

He/she visited a while but was soon superseded by an American bullfrog.



 American Bullfrog, April 21, 2022

That is quite a parade of frogs! But there’s more to the story. On March 18 of this year, my coworker Dana photographed a spotted salamander in the reflecting pool. This was an exciting observation.  Spotted salamanders are far larger than the common red-backed salamanders that inhabit Massachusetts’ woodlands. Adults average about six inches and have much heftier bodies. This individual was, apparently, out and about for mating season. People seldom observe these marvelous animals except during March and April when they emerge from woodland burrows for the trek to their vernal pool breeding ground.



 Spotted Salamander in Reflecting Pool, March 18, 2022

That was our only sighting of an adult. Though we were hoping for more signs, the reflecting pool didn’t feel like a salamander nursery. It might have an abundance of scum but it lacks the soft, mucky bottom that I associate with salamander breeding pools. Where could developing larvae hide?

New evidence would come on April 1 when Dana saw eggs, not in the reflecting pool, but in the mini pool. Here’s my photo showing five clusters of eggs attached to a piece of dead vegetation.


 Spotted Salamander Eggs in Mini Pool, April 2, 2022

And, here’s a closer view that reveals individual eggs enclosed by a stiff, gelatinous matrix.




I was delighted to have an opportunity to share this phenomena with the library’s patrons – respectfully and without disruption – through these photo essays. Four days later, my heart sank:  the sticks had been removed from the pool, and there were no eggs in sight. My speculations ranged from accident, ignorance, and malice as I dealt with my disappointment.There was nothing to be done about it this year.


 As preparation for my recent program, “Wings:  Birds, Butterflies, and Dragonflies of Early Summer,” I scooped some sediment from the bottom of the mini pool. Out from the teeming mud, crawled this creature, a dragonfly nymph.  The mud and decaying leaves support the small invertebrates that this predator eats.  The muck also aids its ambushes and protects the nymph from larger predators like the bullfrog we saw.


 Dragonfly Nymph, May 28, 2022

Like amphibians, dragonflies develop through several life stages:  egg, larva, and adult. Swift and colorful adults make the strongest impression on humans, yet most of the insect’s life is spent underwater. Depending on the species, a dragonfly may spend up to five years in the larval stage, shedding its exoskeleton repeatedly as it grows.


Rinsed with some pond water, the nymph’s anatomy becomes apparent:  six segmented legs, large eyes, and rudimentary wings can be seen in the specimen above. Three scoops of mud yielded three nymphs.  The mini pool is a successful dragonfly nursery.

On the day of the “Wings” nature walk, I revisited the mini pool and swept the sediment for dragonfly larvae. I had no success after several attempts, but I did find a dragonfly’s shed skin which is known as an exuvia. Unlike a dead animal, this skin is hollow, lightweight, and somewhat translucent. This view of the underside also shows the insect’s chief “weapon”:  its specialized mouthpart called a labium or mask. The dragonfly rapidly extends and retracts this organ to snare prey.


 Dragonfly Exuvia, June 13, 2022

I don’t know enough about dragonflies to identify this species. Maybe it’s a clubtail; maybe not.  All the same, I’m dazzled by the metamorphosis. Here is an adult dragonfly that I photographed at the library last August. When it was young, it looked similar to the nymphs above. Amazing!


 Slaty Skimmer, August 17, 2022

Just before the nature walk, I discovered something completely unexpected in my dip net. It was about an inch long with legs, a tail, and prominent gills: my salamanders!


 Spotted Salamander Larva, June 13, 2022

I scooped up two of them for a photo shoot then promptly returned them to the water. During this 20-second video, notice how they use both their legs and tail to move. You can also see their toes and those feathery gills.


 They have some growing up to do. They will double their size, lose their gills, and develop rudimentary spots by the time they become terrestrial animals in the late summer or early fall. If we’re very lucky, we’ll see a newly-emerged adult at that time.


All of these animals (and many smaller organisms) are living in a pond the size of a bathtub!  I never expected to observe anything interesting in the mini pool, but I should have known better.  Years ago, I wanted a fish pool in my backyard, but a lack of space limited its scope.  The pool became nothing more than a rubber trough, two feet in diameter.  In no time, a frog and dragonflies made it their home.


There are species that require large home ranges to survive, and they deserve that opportunity. And then, there is the life all around us, so “ordinary” that we stop noticing and caring.  Perhaps the appeal of that unkempt pool can be the diversity of life that it supports. Visiting it throughout the past year has certainly made my life richer.



















Reflecting Pool at Queset Garden

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