April is Salamander Time
Don Scallen introduces us to three species of salamanders that are starting to appear in our hills. The first half of April is salamander time in our hills.
Summoned by rain and snowmelt that drips into their subterranean retreats, they wriggle to the surface and poke their snouts through the dead leaves on the forest floor. They then follow faint chemical cues to woodland ponds where they will engage in affairs of the heart.
In the hills we have three species of these “mole” salamanders, so named because they spend most of their time underground. They are the striking yellow-spotted salamander, the blue-spotted salamander and a cause célèbre of our forested glades, the threatened Jefferson salamander.
Most of us are totally oblivious to their presence. And yet spotted salamanders at least are abundant animals in woodlands that contain the vernal (temporary) pools that they require for breeding.
All of these salamanders are strictly nocturnal, so to find them a nighttime foray is necessary. The wetter the evening the better, for these are soft-skinned creatures that can easily dry out.
But a word of caution: on moist early April nights, so many of these salamanders can be on the march to and from ponds that you must be alert not to step on them. At the ponds search with a flashlight to find love struck salamanders courting, mating and laying eggs. Then leave them in peace so that this early spring miracle can be repeated next year.
Just outside our doors you will find a world of wonders if you take the time to look. We share the hills with millions of animals that lead fascinating lives.
They run, fly, slither and hop through our meadows, woodlands and backyards. They live among the life giving trees, shrubs and wildflowers that also merit our attention.
Connecting with plants and animals is a pleasurable pursuit. It gets us up out of our chairs, our feet in motion, our lungs filled with fresh country air. And it stimulates our minds.
The curious among us will inevitably ask questions about the lives of the plants and animals that we encounter. And as we learn more about their lives, caring is an inevitable by-product.
Such caring is critically necessary today for we have great power over the lives of the “others” as Farley Mowat calls plants and animals. Our affairs too often hurt them. Within us though, we have the power to help. The entry above is the first in a series about the wonders of nature in the Headwaters region.
Please get out and enjoy the gifts that nature offers, but remember to walk softly among the hills.