Although marking methods are available for identifying larval and adult amphibians, techniques for egg masses have not been tested. Individual egg masses can be difficult to relocate and monitor because they are similar in appearance and often found within communal aggregations. We evaluated a method of marking spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) egg masses with visible fluorescent elastomer (VIE) and provided the first assessment of an identification technique for this life stage. Laboratory and field experiments tested for effects of VIE on the development of embryos, retention in the jelly matrix and the practicality of this technique in the field. We found no effect of VIE on survival or hatching of embryos, nor on body size and developmental stage of hatchlings compared to unmarked controls. In the laboratory, marks remained intact and identifiable within the jelly matrix until hatching was complete (>35 d). In the field, marks in the outer jelly matrix remained intact for 83% of developmental days; marks in the inner matrix remained intact longer for 97% of developmental days. We found this method efficient for large samples and were able to locate VIE-marked egg masses at depths typical of oviposition sites (0.05–0.45 m). We suggest that the VIE technique has broad applications and would be suitable for other species with similar egg jellies. When combined with methods for larvae and adults, this technique may facilitate identification for multiple life stages and improve tests of individual-based allocation, population and life history models.
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Vol. 153 • No. 1