Tuesday, December 20, 2011

However bummed I am about the lack of turtles this time of year, I can take comfort in the salamanders. I've seen some people online finding the spring ambystomid (a.k.a. 'mole') salamanders like spotteds (Ambystoma maculatum) moving a bit early (I figure our buckets of rain this year have drawn them out early in some cases), and that motivated me to head out, with my herping buddy Mike, to some spotted spots and see what we could turn up.

We did find redbacks (Plethodon cinereus), which hail from a completely different group of salamanders: slender, lungless salamanders that skip the larval stage and lay eggs on land. The ambystomids do their thing in the water, and their eggs hatch into aquatic larvae that develop in that water for a few months before striking off into the woods to find a cozy burrow. Here's a pretty typical redback.

Here is a pretty typical redback response to being asked to hold still for a photo:

At another spot, near where Scott and I helped out with the salamander road crossing this past spring, we decided to see if the spotteds had been near enough to the surface to find, and to see if there was enough water to breed in (if you're a salamander).

Nope, and nope, though we did turn up this little cutie, an itty-bitty baby four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatus).

These guys look just enough like redbacks to make me think, each time I flip one, 'something ain't quite right with that redback,' for a split second, until it dawns on me that the redback that is too rough-textured, too coppery, with too short a snout and a tail that pinches off a bit at the base, is not a redback. The four-toe's most obvious distinguishing feature is its belly, an opaque white with black polka dots.

And here's one more redback ('leadback' phase) for good measure:

Next time you read/hear/see me kvetching about the lack of turtles, remind me that there are salamanders to be found.