Sep/Oct 2016 • Vol. XXXVIII No. 5 Nonfiction |

Begetting

Spring was done. Wood frogs, peepers, spotted and blue-spotted salamanders—all explosive, early communal breeders—had fanned back out from the wetlands to their three-season forest haunts; tadpoles and salamander larvae had wriggled from clusters of eggs, infiltrating the surrounding water like post-big bang particles in expanding space; and now the pond simmered beneath lily pads, algae, and duckweed that mostly concealed these aquatic young. Instead of lifting the pond's lid, I turned to the forest, hoping to unearth the eggs of the later-breeding red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus, a common terrestrial salamander with an uncommon habit: eggs laid on land, a larval stage completed entirely inside the egg—blasphemy for an amphibian. Despite not leading the "double life" that characterizes amphibians (the Greek, amphi means both, bios means life) by not spending its youth in water, the female red-backed salamander still must keep her eggs moist. To do this, she curl

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