When spring rains and snow melt fill vernal pools, salamanders come out of hiding to mate in that chilly water.

The marbled salamander, however, has skipped this story line.

Instead, this handsome black-and-white striped amphibian waits until the fall to skitter to the dried-up pools to lay its eggs. Salamander-trackers, like Billy Michael of Bethel, follow in their wake. One vernal pool in Topstone Park in Redding is an almost-sure marbled salamander bet.

“Oh god, we’ve been going there every year,” Michael said.

Lepidopterist, artist and environmentalist Victor DeMasi of Redding is another seeker of marbled salamander egg masses.

“This is the time,” said DeMasi.

Over the fall harvest landscape, there are a few species that are gearing up for reproduction when much of the rest of the natural world is either shutting down, fattening up or migrating out for winter.

Tom Philbrick, professor of botany at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, has two witch hazel shrubs in his yard. One, a cultivar, blooms in the spring like every sensible plant should.

The other is the native witch hazel — Hamamelis virginiana. It waits until the fall to display its beautiful yellow petals.

“It’s out of sync,” Philbrick said.

Two species of birds — the American goldfinch and the cedar waxwing — don’t start nesting until the late summer or early fall.

And two other obvious late bloomers are now filling up their dance card — goldenrod and asters.

“There are so many species, all together, and they look spectacular,” said Kathleen Nelson of New Milford, president of the Mad Gardeners of Litchfield County. “They last two, three, four weeks.”

All of these species have evolved to wait until autumn for egg-laying and seed producing that will carry over into the year to come.

Some, like the witch hazel, may have started down this road a few millennia ago. So the “why” here can be hard to answer.

“We don’t know,” Philbrick said of the witch hazel’s evolutionary path. “It might have happened 100,000 years ago.”

The marbled salamander may have changed its mating habits to make sure its offspring survive and have a full platter when they need it.

“There may be a couple of reasons why they do this,” said Dennis Quinn of Plantsville, owner of Quinn Ecological LLC, which does consulting work on amphibian and reptile habitat preservation.

Marbled salamander females lay their eggs at the edges of dried-up vernal pools after the males have left sperm sacs. Rather than departing, the females brood their eggs, sitting on them to keep them moist.

Quinn said that protects the eggs from predators. When it starts raining and snowing in fall and winter, and the vernal pools begin to fill up again, marbled salamander larvae can develop slowly in those frozen spots.

Then, Quinn said, when spring comes and frogs and other salamanders flock to full vernal pools to lay their eggs, the already-developed marbled salamander larvae have grown. They feast on much smaller tadpoles and larvae swimming past them.

“It gives them a jump start,” Quinn said.

Food sources also have driven the evolution of American goldfinches and cedar waxwings.

Goldfinches are seed eaters, said Robyn Bailey, project leader of NestWatch, a citizen science program run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York. Cedar waxwings feed on fruit.

Therefore, Bailey said, both species wait to nest, lay eggs and feed their young when their food sources are most plentiful — in the fall, when plants have gone to seed, and trees and shrubs are loaded with fruit and berries.

“Goldfinches can time it so they hatch their young just when there are seeds all around,” Bailey said.

Goldfinches also don’t have to fatten up for migration — they generally stay in place year-round. Cedar waxwings, while highly social, are nomadic rather than migratory. Bailey said they move from crop to crop as the year progresses, finding fruit and berries where they can.

Late bloomers not only have their place, but serve others. Goldenrod and asters in bloom give pollinators a needed fall meal.

DeMasi of Redding said migrating monarch butterflies heading to their wintering grounds in Mexico need to fatten up for the long trip. Late blooming plants give them that extra boost of nectar.

And, as Western’s Philbrick said, plants like witch hazel feed the human soul’s need for color.

“It’s so nice to see them in winter, when the landscape is so bleak,” he said.

Connecticut Media Group