Spotted Salamanders in Spring

For such common forest creatures, Spotted Salamanders are rarely encountered. The fact that they spend much of their lives underground (or at least out of view under forest debris) and are active primarily at night might explain why. But, as I discovered during the last moon cycle, these moist 5-8" long amphibians journey from their winter homes to their breeding grounds in waves during the first warm, wet nights of spring. During this window of opportunity, observers have a good chance to spotting one.  I was lucky to find this fellow, who I made sure was able to get across the road safely. (Tuesday's video shows part of the crossing.)

Photo of Spotted Salamander

So, why did the salamander cross the road? Surely, not to try to outrun cars – which many fail to do. Rather, they cross roads to get to their breeding grounds, unless they happen to live in road-free areas. Spotted Salamanders can live for more than 20 years, and adults typically return to the same temporary, fish-free forest pools every year to ensure another generation of their kind. In most cases, salamanders remain loyal to their place of birth.

After locating a particularly busy crossing (I found many dead salamanders and one live one in a small stretch of road) near my home, I was curious to find where these particular animals were headed. I consulted maps of certified vernal pools in town and found none in the immediate area. Maps did show a sizable wet spot, just south of the road, that I discovered was on state-owned forest land. So last week, I investigated the wet spot with a friend -- and what a gem we found. In addition to numerous salamander egg masses (like the one pictured below), we were able to gather enough evidence to submit this potential vernal pool for certification.  In Massachusetts, certified vernal pools are protected by laws that prohibit or restrict their alteration.

Photo of Spotted Salamander Egg Mass

Spotted Salamanders aren't the only creatures who rely on vernal pools annually. Wood Frogs, Fairy Shrimp, a host of insects, other less numerous salamanders, and many other beings need these specialized habitats in order to reproduce.

If you are interested in learning more about vernal pools and how you can help identify, preserve, and protect them and the creatures who live and breed in them, I recommend A Field Guide to the Animals of Vernal Pools by Kenney and Burne. Copies can be ordered from the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program for only $12. Last year, I found a copy for only 50 cents at a library book sale – a veritable steal for such a valuable, portable guide!

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