Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I’ve been kicking around the idea of an ode to the redback salamander (Plethodon cinereus). It’s the herp I find most often, it’s a strikingly beautiful little critter that even normal people can find cute and appealing, and if you’re counting by numbers, it’s the dominant vertebrate predator in the Northeast.

Ever since I moved from Atlanta to Baltimore, the redback has for sure dominated my herping, but before then, when I was living in Atlanta, I didn’t see any. Of course I was herping mainly in the range of the redback’s close relative, the southern redback salamander (Plethodon serratus), but these are very closely related species (they used to be considered the same species), and to this day I’m a little miffed I hadn’t found any serratus while I lived in Atlanta.

The problem was that the southern redbacks like summer even less than ours do, and back than I was still thinking of herping as something I did in the summer while out hiking. That was great for finding streambed salamanders like the duskies (Desmognathus species), but really bad for finding redbacks, which spend the summer deep underground.

I’d almost forgotten that southern redbacks existed when Jen and I decided to look around her parents’ house the day after Christmas. It was a foul day, misty and thirty-eight degrees when we headed outside and into the wooded ravine behind the house at around four in the afternoon. We focused on the stream that runs through the ravine, and I’m proud to say we checked every rock that looked good, even though the icy water completely numbed our fingers.

I found one southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata cirrigera) that way, and I was ready to head back inside, but Jen was stubbornly turning over rocks on our way back. I really couldn’t head back inside without her, and it was a good thing I didn’t, since after a minute she shouted that she’d found something.

My camera’s batteries had died, so I didn’t get any photos, but what she had in her hand looked exactly like one of our redbacks, maybe a little more slender. I checked the range maps again, and although it’s close, I’m pretty sure it was a southern redback – my very first, and not a bad Christmas present.

I have one other find to report: on the 23rd we headed to Calloway Gardens in Troup County, GA. They have a big Christmas lights show, but we got there in the afternoon to enjoy the grounds in daylight too. It was a beautiful sunny day in the low 60s, and I spotted a stinkpot (musk turtle - Sternotherus oderatus) crawling around the bottom of one of the ponds. If I hadn’t had to get back into the van with the rest of the family I would have jumped in after it.


December 23rd:

- 1 stinkpot

December 26th:

- 1 southern two-line salamander
- 1 southern redback salamander