The "jumping prince" who lives in the pine forest

il principe salterinoUntil three years ago, I had never seen it. Even at school I had ever been involved in some of those improbable farms in jar organized in the lessons of Sciences, the first direct impact with the laws of Nature. Imagine where could we find them, tadpoles, in my Roman neighborhood where there is no trace of damp areas at least a century? On the other hand, among the many princes of sound collection fairy tales, had always urged more my imagination the handsome knight that saved

Snow White with a kiss rather than kissing a slimy pet to turn (perhaps) into a prince. For sure, I didn’t grow with a passion for amphibians, except the favorite version of us in the eighties ... It had to elapse of time since then, before I found myself having to deal with those four-legged. Perilous in a familiar place, where I had spent so many hours, that walks, that I was convinced as well to know well, once I learn to distinguish the many species of lush rose bush between the lava Arso, thanks to the protective cover secured by half ‘800 by the surrounding foliage.

That there will be a rare animal species, even protected, apart from the many birds, I had never crossed my mind even as a hypothesis. But, on a spring day, the Pineta Mirtina aromatherapy park in the heart of Ischia, revealed to me another of its wonders.Tadpoles in the shade of the pinesTo solicit my curiosity had been the ENPA friends, who followed the situation for a couple of years. “The Mirtina is a breeding site of the Golden Toad, a protected species - said Luigi Di Meglio - last year in mid-summer the puddles have dried up, avoiding to happen again, otherwise they will die”. The tadpoles in the pine forest? But where? So, going in the park after that phone call, for the first time I stopped to look closely at the various watering holes, created years ago for aromatherapy path. Beyond any original planning, nature has turned into many “nursery” for various species of insects and small inhabitant of this stranger with webbed feet.

Which it has become the real master, from January to late August.Already, the warmest winters in recent years have nticipated a few months the mating season of the Pineta Mirtina golden toads, which leave since January, their hiding under the leaf litter, where they live usually, those outputs of love that restore it exceptionally in water. When possible in the same pond where they were born. And where they meet, camouflaging among the rocks and vegetation, ready to hide at the first sign of a foreign presence. They abserve in secret,  ready to succeed the field will be free soon. They are shy and discreet toads. For months they have seen only the most basic and lowercase version: hundreds of tadpoles in every puddle, of various generations and in various stages of growth. The smaller on the surface, the bigger ones in the deeper emerald water. Stops along the edge of the ponds or on the bottom in moments of rest or frenetic movement when they are searching for food. That does not fail. In groups, crowding around the small algae on the bottom and on the submerged rocks, the flowers of trees falling into the water, between the roots and leaves of water lilies that soon will show off their ornate purple inflorescences.

Several generations of tadpoles, which coexist for the duration of their aquatic life, a couple of months with our warm climate. During which it takes place all their complex and fascinating transformation, in various stages, from small brownish lentils equipped with tail and gills until the final metamorphosis of the cycle, which makes them land animals, unfit to survive in the water except to the needs of reproduction and spawning. Egg necklaces I had read of the egg necklaces, and I had seen a few pictures, but it was exciting, one morning, to find them for the first timein the only free puddle of water hyacinths, which always keeps the visibility of the bottom. The day before there was the usual mud, but that morning it was noticed the strange skeins as wet and greenish wool around which moved many tadpoles in the early stages. And, further, the long transparent filaments, stretched between the stones, inside of which, lined up like peas in pods, were distinguished of blacks grains. Those threads unraveled from its strange skeins, which seemed so different, at first glance, just because they were covered by the bottom silt. Here they are, then, the characteristics of “necklaces” of eggs of golden toads!.

Around it was full of tadpoles, as intent on taking care of the new generation still encapsulated in eggs. A true celebration of life, while the pine forest celebrating the spring with an explosion of flowers and perfumes in the silence broken only by the chirping of birds. Potential enemies of the toads, as even the tadpoles come in their diet.Tadpoles, more tadpoles. But the meeting with the toad never came. The chain of generations lacked the key link, despite the almost daily visits to the pools to check the water level and, if necessary, add more, taking advantage of the nearby fountains. With volunteers of ENPA commitment it is precisely to preserve the reproductive habitat of toads throughout the useful season, as even the draining of a pond only, as was the case even a few weeks ago for a problem of the tank structure, it destroys thousands of tadpoles and thwarts a whole year. Without the ponds, the frogs suddenly again become a high-risk species even at a site so far in their favor as Pineta Mirtina. Identified some years ago by the study group of Herpetology professorship at the University of Naples as the main site for the survival of the island green toad, which is internationally protected by the Berne Convention and the European one by the Habitats Directive, both binding for Italy which is a signatory.A complex and fascinating habitatExtinct on other islands of the Gulf, the Golden toad continues to live only in Ischia, where its presence is historically established in locations which represent the same stages of an ideal nature trail to explore the island. It starts from the lush pine forest in the center of Ischia, where the profusion of myrtle shrubs, even in the vicinity of the Golden ponds, gave its name to the precious water Mirtina award-winning in the early ‘900, which has its source there.

On the other side of the island, the toads live in another wetland around the Olmitello source, formerly known as Bath of the Princesses, including Maronti and Sant'Angelo. At the foot of the next headland, Punta Chiarito, known for the discovery of a Greek settlement of the eighth to sixth centuries BC, the Golden is reproduced until recently also in Sorgeto, where there are hot springs to swim even in winter. And in time the only amphibians on the island has also frequented the ponds present at Cavascura, where the Romans dug into the rock the first thermal spa in Ischia; the zone of Cava dell’isola, with its beautiful beach in Forio favored by young people and the valley of La Rita, in the heart of the thermal basin which made famous Casamicciola for its healing waters since the time of the Grand Tour. So, Ischia confirms the suitability if the Toad at different habitats, including ponds of sweet and brackish waters and even collections of temporary water.After having followed the tracks, seeing so many tadpoles grow, having known more thanks to the experts, only missing the encounter with the Golden Toad. Then, late in the afternoon in June, a year ago, through the pine forest I saw something unexpected.

In time the silence that comes close to dusk, resounded through the vegetation the unmistakable croaking of dozens of Golden toads. And going up to a puddle, for the first time Isaw him, at last. In the water, with its iridescent green that blends with the vegetation and that powerful mating call, able to drown every other sound in the stain. Here it is, the prince of the pine forest, the sprawling emerald Toad of the Green Island. A small masterpiece of nature. More exciting than the handsome prince in Snow White.

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Info on Ischia island

  • Surface: 46 Kmq
  • Hight: 789 mt
  • Lat.: 40° 44',82 N
  • Long.: 13° 56',58 E
  • Periplus: 18 miglia
  • Coasts: 51.2 Km
  • Cities: 6
  • Inhabitants: 58.029


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