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The Pyrenees after the snow melt

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

Impatiently i was waiting to leave lab work behind and to finally get back to the Pyrenees for sampling. During the last sampling tour in October 2017 I still had the images of the two very fat marmots in my mind, who barely made it up the hill to hide or the unmovable cow herd blocking the entire street for 10 minutes or more.

While these were fun memories, this year is different. I know most of the sites, know the paths, the roads leading to them and do know the exact sampling spots. Even more important, i now am able to predict the effort to get to those sites and what it will mean for my body and knees. Muscles aren’t aching as bad as last year and there is more time to take pictures and films instead of breath. Hence, this year I can enjoy the inspiring landscape of the Pyrenees much better, including also the wonderful flowers to be seen everywhere.

While I have experience the Pyrenees intensively last year, I haven’t experienced the mountains right after the snow melt and that changes a lot of the appearance of the Pyrenees: There is water everywhere as well as the most beautiful meadows with flowers, like orchids and lilies (!). We had to cross big snow fields this time which increased the adventure by sliding partly back downhill to escape the upcoming thunderstorm.

Some lakes and ponds are flowing over with water, frog spawn is present and tadpoles are yet too small to be swabbed without being harmed. In one of the P³ lakes huge Alytes obstetricans tadpoles (midwife toad) survived already several winters at 1869 masl altitude. I am happy that they made it and still wonder about that biological miracle. The overwintering larvae of Alytes find their match with ranid frogs of the Sierra Nevada, R. muscosa and R. sierrae. However, all of them are susceptible to Bd, the amphibian killer fungus.

In any case, those taddies are really not easy to catch, as they know how to hide and to survive, and hiding for them is plenty with all the underwater rocks on which my feet slip regularly. On the way back we learned about those - malin - midwife toads and told stories about our own strange positions during the tadpole capture. When we got out of the car … thinking only about food and sleep after a 13hrs day … we met an Alytes adult in the front yard of Dirk and Adeline! And it was even carrying eggs on its back! As we learned just minutes before, this could only be a male: The parental care is characteristic for these toady frogs and the male carries the eggs after the female expels them. They are externally fertilized by the male and carried for 21 to 42 days before it allows the tadpoles to hatch in shallow waters. So, quite surely, Dirk and Adeline will have soon some more tiny Alytes tadpoles in their garden pond. Those will not overwinter, but will try to make it to small froglets before the end of summer.

More information on Alytes go to Amphibiaweb.

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