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Posts Tagged ‘amphibians’

How do small things make you feel?  Do you sense their vulnerability and seek to protect them?  Or does their smallness seem irritating and invasive, as they tug you out of your comfort zone?

Salamander seeking a dark place to hide

Regardless of where we find ourselves, there will always be those among us who will be more vulnerable than others.  They may be very small in size like this baby red-backed salamander, or, although a bit bigger, they may suddenly find themselves in situations they aren’t prepared to handle on their own.

Maritime garter snake crossing a road

Sometimes they manage fine without our intervention.  Sometimes they don’t.

Shrew found dead on gravel road

Awareness is key. If we don’t know of the small and vulnerable in our environment, how can we  be expected to act on their behalf?  Or, at the very least, do them no harm?

It’s through the small things that we develop our moral imagination, so that we can understand the suffering of others.

~  Alexander McCall Smith

Text and photographs copyright Amy-Lynn Bell 2017

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Hey, what are you doing awake?  Aren’t you supposed to be hibernating?  

It was so warm that I decided to come out and see if it was spring yet. 

Weren’t you just out last month during a warm spell?

Yes, but this mating business is so important to us salamanders that I can’t let spring pass me by.  I have to check out every possibility.

Where do you usually spend your winters?

We yellow-spotted salamanders ideally hibernate about six inches underground.  However, I’ve just been buried beneath some leaves that are heaped on a concrete floor.  Maybe that’s why I keep waking up.  I need to find some deeper digs.

Once you really  know for sure that it’s spring, where will you go?

In very early spring, we salamanders return to pools of water to mate.  Females will lay up to a couple hundred eggs.  Temporary vernal pools created by melting snow and spring rains are our favorite places because they aren’t home to the predators found in more established watering holes.  We have to get there quickly so that the eggs have a chance to go through all the phases of growth before the pools dry up.

Good luck finding deeper digs.  Hope to see you again, but no sooner than  spring 🙂

Waking up throughout the winter takes up a lot of the precious energy I need for mating in the spring.  I’m going to find myself a spot where I won’t be disturbed.  See ya!

This yellow-spotted salamander was found wandering about  on January 1st.  It was previously seen on December 6th

 

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Do you ever wonder about what lies lurking beneath the stairs? Outdoor open-riser stairs that lead below ground level easily spark the imagination with images of creepy creatures that lie in wait beneath the dead leaves. I’ve often found toads and frogs in such a spot, but yesterday’s discovery was the most remarkable yet.

A beautiful yellow-spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) scrambled out of the leaves to enjoy the milder December weather.  It was more marvelous than creepy, a veritable wonder to behold.  Although they are not uncommon in Nova Scotia, I’ve only seen a yellow-spotted salamander once before near the compost pile.  Red-backed salamanders are a much more frequent find in my yard.

At least half a foot in length, this salamander possesses the amazing ability to drop its tail in order to distract predators.  Even more wonderful is its ability to regenerate its tail, limbs and even parts of organs if necessary.  If it feels threatened, it can also release a whitish poison from glands around its back neck.  This one simply held still until the photo shoot was over.  Then it scrambled back into the leaf litter.

If it survives the winter, in early spring, this salamander will make its way at that time to the nearest pond to reproduce.  In the meantime, it’s welcome to make its home beneath the stairs.

 

For more information on red-backed salamanders, see:

Red-backed Salamanders

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Red-backed salamanders are always a joy to find lying under rocks and beneath the dead leaves in the woods.  They are most frequently seen on moist days in spring and fall.

These woodland salamanders are amphibians but do not lay their eggs or have a larval stage in water.  Adults are lungless and breathe through their skin.  Consequently, moist surroundings are crucial to their survival and they are very sensitive to slight changes in their environment.  As the weather warms or cools, salamanders bury themselves deeper in the ground or under logs.

Years ago, salamanders became associated with fire, probably because they’d seemingly come to life when logs, to which they were clinging, were flung into the fire.  Considered by some to be magical creatures, they’ve been known to exist since the Jurassic period.

These small creatures eat tiny arthropods found in leaf litter.  Their numbers can be quite numerous in eastern American woodlands.  Although they keep a very low profile, salamanders contribute to the biodiversity of their habitat and play an important role in the natural recycling process of the forest. 

Their gentle nature endears salamanders to many.  Scientists see them as bioindicators,  and employ their numbers to indicate the health of woodlands.  Threatened by clear-cutting and extremely vulnerable to fungi and disease, their absence from an ecosystem is cause for concern.  Perhaps because of their fragility and silent presence in the woods, these red-backed salamanders are my favorite amphibians.

Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal. As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.
~ C.S. Lewis

For more information about the mythology surrounding salamanders, see Dragonorama.

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