favourite moments # 6 – wonderful salamanders!

This is a post in a series about favourite moments of nature observation that have occurred over the past couple or so years. It’ll help to pass the time spent indoors this winter as I wait to be back out observing insects, spiders, frogs and others.

It’s been awhile since I did a Favourite Moments, so here is today’s offering. As I write this, the sun is up, there’s not a speck of snow on the ground(!!!), the grass looks quite green, and if I didn’t already know that it’s -9C (17F) out there, I’d think it was early autumn. In October, if you had asked me what I’d be doing on January 13th, I’d probably say we’d be snowshoeing through the woods and wandering across the ice of frozen ponds and marshes to check out beaver lodges. Instead, we’ll be hiking one of our favourite summer trails later today. It truly has been an unusual winter.

Anyhow, back to these salamanders! Aren’t they wonderful? All of them were photographed in the same woods on September 21, 2005. My friend, Eric Snyder, had asked me to hike to an old sand pit to photograph some pygmy mole crickets that he had found there, but with a stop to search for salamanders in the woods along the way. We set out for the sand pit, stopping to check for sallies beneath a few small logs that had been tossed in a pile during trail clearing. Eric and I have done quite a bit of stream survey work together, so I’m accustomed to his usual reserved ways even in the face of rather exciting discoveries. As he carefully turned over the first couple of logs, he almost immediately discovered a salamander — I believe it was a Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) such as the one in the above photo (click on image for larger view). He seemed mildly excited about the find, as I believe he was expecting that we would find only Eastern Red-backed Salamanders at that site. I began shooting photos while he continued to turn small sticks and bits of wood.

I was soon interrupted from my shooting by Eric’s exclamations – not quite of the magnitude of an excited outburst – but enough so that I knew he must have made a very interesting discovery. Finishing up with my first subject, I came over to view the source of the excitement. It was a wonderful Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) – well worthy of a few hoots (see above image). This species is not seen frequently in our region, so this was a very nice sighting. The salamander was an adult of very good size, with beautiful chocolate brown skin dotted with bright yellow spots. I shot several photos before Eric carefully replaced the wood as he had found it.

We continued searching around, finding many other interesting things that day. We spotted several nice Eastern Red-backed Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), such as the one in the above photo. I photographed a few Eastern Garter Snakes – a juvenile found curled up beneath a piece of wood, and an adult in the hollow of a decaying log. Eric found an adult Wood Frog and a Spring Peeper (frog), which I also photographed. As well, I found some interesting spiders. Perhaps I’ll put up photos of some of those in my next Favourite Moments post. We continued on to the sand pit and made some neat discoveries at that site as well – so, yes, I’ll definitely have to do a follow-up with more photos. Once in awhile you get a day that is so filled with sightings that it seems like elves must have been busy putting things out for you beforehand. This was definitely one of those days.

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18 Responses to “favourite moments # 6 – wonderful salamanders!”

  1. Jenn Says:

    Wonderful! Love these guys, they are so colorful!

  2. robin andrea Says:

    “Once in awhile you get a day that is so filled with sightings that it seems like elves must have been busy putting things out for you beforehand.” Those are the best days! Love the colors on those salamanders. What beautiful creatures.

  3. romunov Says:

    We only get Salamandra atra and S. salamandra here.

  4. Laura Says:

    Handsome creatures – I’ve never seen one.

  5. Vasha Says:

    The only salamanders I’ve seen are the “red eft” form of the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). They’re quite impossible to overlook when they wander onto the path. They do brighten up a dark forest!

  6. Ontario Wanderer Says:

    Wonderful salamander photos. I’ve seen the blue spotted and yellow spotted ones but don’t have any photos.

  7. burning silo Says:

    Jenn – Yes, they’re very colorful. Some of the Blue-spotted ones are really pretty blue!

    robin – I was sure you would know exactly what I meant about days when it seems like the elves have put things out for us — seems like you have quite a few of those too!

    romunov – In this region, we also get the large aquatic salamanders commonly known as mudpuppies (Necturus maculosus). I posted about them back in March but you may not have seen the photos.

    Laura – You pretty much have to be on the lookout for them if you want to see them. They’re usually seen underneath wood in forests. As I like to look for snails, slugs and millipeds, and they all hang out in the same kinds of places, I keep an eye out for all of them.

    Vasha – Yes, a red eft is rather easy to spot when out and about!

    OW – That’s great that you’ve seen both of those around in your area. I’ve seen the Blue-spotteds in quite a few locations, but not the Yellows.

  8. Cindy Says:

    another passion of mine.. salamanders! I’ve documented 5 species here at home, and my favorite was the teeny little red-backed salamander.. so small that at first I thought it was a tiny earthworm. They’re just wonderful little creatures, one reason I’m always trying to get my neighbors to leave their deadfall alone..
    I’ve found them under our house in the crawlspace- not sure how they got in there, but I moved them out to the woods.. they always feel like cold little gummy bears on my hand :)
    really enjoyed this one Bev.

  9. burning silo Says:

    Cindy – Glad you enjoyed the salamander piece. That’s exactly how I would describe them too — like cold gummy bears. (-:
    You raise an important point about leaving deadfalls in the forest. I always hate seeing people “cleaning up the bush” because that’s the last thing you want to do if you’re trying to provide some habitat for salamanders.

  10. Cathy Says:

    It occurs to me that life is indeed a banquet and you are recording it. These little creatures are – well . . . words fail – ummmm – they seem so other-worldly. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any of these, so they are indeed, other-worldly for me. I wonder what in their environment would select for spots. Spots? Wow.

  11. Peter Says:

    Lucky you. I don’t think I have seen a salamander in quite a few years (not that I’ve been looking) and I think the red-backed you showed in the last photo may be the only kind I have seen in the wild.

    I recall in my childhood being able to find them under almost every log on one of the paths through Charleston Lake. I know better now, but I used to pick them up and hold them in my hands for a closer look.

    Excellent photos.

  12. burning silo Says:

    Cathy – Yes, life is a banquet. That’s a good way of thinking of it. Salamanders do seem a little other-worldly. Interesting about the spots. They may seem quite bright, but I find that, under natural light in a forest, they’re quite difficult to see as the spots and speckles seem to blend quite well with the speckles in soil and leaf mulch when one turns a piece of wood.

    Peter – Thanks! When I was a kid (which is rather a long time ago), I used to see salamanders much more frequently than I do now — and that’s not for lack of looking around. When I was young, I used to see them under stones in our garden.

  13. sarala Says:

    These are great salamander shots. I used to catch salamanders as a kid in the meadows on Mt. Rainier in Washington. They were black with a broad yellow stripe down the back. I guess now I feel guilty for not leaving them be. I wonder if I’d see some if I turned over logs around here (Chicago)–not in dead of winter of course.

  14. burning silo Says:

    sarala – Thanks! You might well find some salamanders if you look under decaying wood in the forest, especially in woods where there are some vernal pools. I’ve found that spring and early autumn seem to be the best time to look for them.

  15. Crafty Green Poet Says:

    Lovely story and what beautiful creatures.

  16. Elizabeth Says:

    this a really pretty salamander, I like the Blue

  17. Elizabeth Says:

    this a really pretty salamander, I like the Blue

  18. emily Says:

    wow i love salamanders but i wish i could fiend a spotted salamander.