Just a sliver of the moon was showing and the stars were abundant Thursday night when I drove up to Sleepy Creek to find Ambystoma maculatum mating. The time of year was right and the air temperature was right but there was no rain. Since I had been there just a few days ago and the ground was covered with snow and running water I was hopeing that it would still be moist enough but no, the leaves were crunchy under my foot steps. I was looking for Spotted Salamanders mating and they only do it once a year in mass, much like the Wood Frogs.
Not to be deterred I began lifting bark and logs in search of these chubby mole salamanders and Eureka! I found one. And it was in the same spot that I found one two years ago! They can live to be 30 years old so I wonder if I found the same salamander.
First I just saw a little bit of its tail curled up but I knew right away because those bright yellow spots are a dead give away. It inched away as if to say, “Didn’t you get the memo? Not tonight, there is no rain, come back when it rains and we will ALL come out and strut our way to the pond wearing our yellow spotted outfits.”
I was persistent and uncovered the sleepy cold-blooded salamander for a better photo.
Spotted Salamanders like this one are about six to seven and half inches long. The dark background is mostly black but can be bluish black like this one or dark grey or even dark brown. The spots are the amazing part. This little critter spends most of its life beneath ground and will only exit their underground homes on warm rainy nights in spring to breed and hunt.
You can see the tail looks intact. They have the ability to drop their tails, to distract predators. In fact if something bites off its leg, tail or even parts of its brain and head it can grow it back. There have been moments when I wish I could grow back my brain and remember what I was just looking for.
They also have large poison glands around the back and neck, which release a toxic white liquid. Fortunately I didn’t get it riled up trying to corral it for a nice photo and was spared the toxic stuff.
Six years ago at Rust Sanctuary in Virginia I attended a workshop on salamanders where I photographed this interesting salamander for the first time and I was captivated by the almost perfect round spots.
With the question, “Why yellow and why spots?” on my mind as I drove home in the dark, I couldn’t help but notice all of the yellow signs with black lettering pointing my way, telling me there was a curve up ahead or a cross road. They were like beacons in the night. I imagine those spots help Spotted Salamanders find each other and warn others to keep away.
It is supposed to rain Monday. Wish me luck.
See more intersting Camera Critters.