What is it about Salamanders that makes them so mysterious? Although they are considered one of the most abundant vertebrates in our area, these tailed amphibians are notoriously hard to spot. These cryptic animals are nocturnal and prefer to hide under logs and leaf litter. There is one time of year when these mysterious salamanders emerge from the moist cover of the forest floor and venture out in search of mates. Driven by the biological need to multiply, when conditions are perfect, salamanders begin their annual migration.
If you happen to be lucky, or patient enough, to catch sight of salamanders on the first rainy night in early spring–a time which most people consider winter–you will be impressed by the populations emerging and traveling. Salamanders typically return, year after year, to the same breeding ground to find a mate and to lay their eggs. Mating grounds consist of vernal pools which hold water during the colder wetter months and dry up in the summertime. Vernal pools are created when rock under the soil keeps the water from draining, or from other man-made or natural indentations in the earth.These small inconspicuous pools resemble wetlands or marshes and are the perfect place to look for salamanders and their egg masses.
If you go out looking for salamanders be prepared with your muck boots and a flashlight. Salamanders, like all amphibians, have permeable skin which is very sensitive. It is best not to handle them much, but if you do, make sure your hands are wet and that you do not have lotion or soap on your skin. You will want to have a clear container to use for observation, and be sure to release any captured salamanders in the spot where they were found them. Although we encourage observation, always be careful not to disturb any endangered or protected salamanders.
It is estimated that over 40% of North American salamanders are experiencing population decline and are considered at risk. Salamanders are particularly susceptible to toxins due to their permeable skin. They are considered an indicator species for water quality because they require clean water to live. As such, you are unlikely to find salamanders living in polluted streams.
Another major threat to salamanders is habitat loss. Here in The Parklands we are working to protect this habitat by reestablishing and conserving wetland areas (like those in the Humana Grand Allee).
If you are unable to get out at night you can search for salamanders in and around small streams by turning over rocks and logs. It is important to return the rocks and logs to their original positions because salamanders rely on these places for shelter. I had good luck last spring finding Southern two-lined salamanders hiding under rocks in the small streams along the Big Beech and Coppiced Woods Trails. Two-lined salamanders are small and fairly abundant in streams in our area.
So when can we expect to see this year’s salamander migration? The annual salamander migration is influenced by a variety of factors, so it’s hard to pinpoint the exact timing. All salamanders require moist conditions, which is why they are most active on rainy nights. The severity of the winter will impact the migration. In years such as this where we have had a prolonged period of freezing temperatures, the migration may be delayed. The migration also may happen in several phases so you are less likely to see the dramatic displays of many salamanders moving at once.This year it looks like the salamanders might be postponing their move until we get a stretch of warm days followed by a rainy night. Which means you still have a chance to catch this year’s migration!
The Parklands is hosting a Salamander Night on February 28th from 7:00-9:30 PM. This event has a limited number of participants, but it’s sure to be an interesting evening in search of these slippery creatures and their resilient egg masses.