Thursday, March 20, 2008

Salamanders

Happy first day of Spring! And nothing says spring more than salamanders. But what is a salamander?

Often confused for lizards, salamanders are amphibians. This means they are closely related to frogs and the worm-like caecilians. They have sensitive, porous, often slimy skin and lack claws. They have tails which can regenerate if needed.

Of the 18 salamander species in New York state, 11 can be found right here in Monroe county! Here at the Tinker Nature Park, 3 species of salamander have been sighted:

The Red-backed salamander is the most common salamander in the area. They get their name from the bright red stripe that runs down their back and tail. Some red-backed salamanders lack this stripe, and are a grayish-black color. This is called a "lead phase". Although most salamanders spend the first part of their life in water, the red-back will spend its whole life on land. Eggs are laid in moist areas in forests, usually under rotting logs or leaves. The red-backed salamander also has no lungs! They get all of their oxygen directly through skin absorption.

The red-backed salamander is a very common forest amphibian. Photo from michaelcravens.com

Spotted salamanders are part of a larger group of salamanders called "mole salamanders". This is because they spend the majority of their lives underground in tunnels where they feed on worms, insects, slugs and other invertebrates. Although fairly common, the spotted salamander is rarely seen because of its secretive nature.

Spotted salamanders can be identified by the two rows of yellow spots that run down their back. Photo from michaelcravens.com

Blue-spotted salamanders are a species of special concern in New York state. Like the spotted salamander, they are a type of "mole salamander", spending most of their lives underground. They can hybridize with the Jefferson's salamander, making fertile hybrids that can be hard to identify. Both the spotted and blue-spotted salamanders are early breeders, and can be found mating in vernal pools around the same time spring peepers appear.
The blue-spotted salamander has bright blue flecks of color on its body. Photo from chicagowildernessmag.com

It is no surprise that these salamanders are found in Tinker Nature Park. These 3 species are associated with woodlands and vernal pools. Vernal pools are temporary pools of water that at some point in the year dry up. Because of these dry periods, fish cannot live in the habitat. Many amphibians take advantage of the fish-free water to lay their eggs. The pools are around long enough for the eggs to hatch, and the young to develop into adults.

But all is not well in the world of amphibians. All over the world amphibians are in decline. Their sensitive, absorbent skin easily sucks in pollutants from their environments. Road casualties are another cause of decline. As amphibians go to their breeding pools, they often cross roads and are flattened by cars.

But you can help! Make sure never to dump toxic materials down drains, or worse, outdoors. When you begin to hear the sounds of frogs and toads calling, be more cautious on the roads. Spread the word about these awesome amphibians!

No comments: