The Return of the Salamanders

This year I managed to take video of the underwater breeding of spotted salamanders.

May 9, 2019 | | Notes from the Wild

There are few more anticipated events in my naturalist year than the return of salamanders to their breeding ponds. Rain and warmth in the first half of April conspire to coax these exquisite creatures out of their woodland hiding places.

They walk purposely back to the ponds that cradled them in their larval stage, probably guided by odour, just as spawning salmon follow scent cues to return to their natal streams.

This year I managed to take video of the underwater breeding of spotted salamanders. Frenzied movement typifies these mating aggregations, which shouldn’t surprise. These salamanders have only a brief window of time to conduct the critical business of reproduction.

Most of the salamanders in the video are males, which can be distinguished from females by their enlarged cloacas, or vents, at the base of their tails. Males are also noticeably slimmer than females. The abdomens of gravid females are swollen with hundreds of eggs.

The small white mushroom-shaped blobs visible in the video are spermatophores deposited by the males. Females hover over these packets of sperm to fertilize their eggs.

Piebald salamander C 2010 Charlotte Cox photographer Piebald salamander C 2011 Piebald salamander C 2017 Piebald salamander C 2019 Jon Clayton photographer
Piebald spotted salamander 2010. Photo by Charlotte Cox.

The pond where the video was taken also hosts bizarre “piebald” spotted salamanders missing much of the usual pigmentation. Each piebald is uniquely patterned, allowing them to be easily recognized as individuals from year to year.

This led to a fascinating discovery this spring. I looked at the images of piebald salamanders taken by friends and myself in recent years and was astonished to find an individual that turned up in photos from 2010, 2011, 2017 and 2019.  Assuming at least two years to attain adult size, this salamander is at least 11 years old!

  • Story Continues Below Advertisements
  • I know that these piebald spotted salamanders, and their normally coloured brethren, will yield other surprises in the years to come. Spring of 2020 will once again find me pondside, with my flashlight – and my curiosity – burning brightly.

    About the Author More by Don Scallen

    Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

    Related Stories

    April is Salamander Time

    Apr 9, 2010 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

    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.

    red-backed salamander

    Autumn Salamanders

    Oct 2, 2018 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

    Small wonder so many salamanders are active at this time of year, seeking last suppers of grubs and spiders, crickets and millipedes.

    caddisfly case made of shells and cedar needles


    May 30, 2016 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

    French artist Hubert Duprat capitalized on this in the 1980s by supplying caddisflies with flecks of gold and tiny precious stones.

    Red-backed salamander up close

    Red-backed salamander

    Oct 17, 2013 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

    Red-backed salamanders are abundant, outnumbering all of the reptiles, rodents and birds that share their forest habitat.

    Fairy shrimp female

    Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp

    May 5, 2015 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

    These aquatic shrimp fairies are aptly named, for they are tiny, gossamer creatures.

    Rose-breasted grosbeak, May 16. Photo by Robert McCaw.

    Spring Hikes on The Bruce Trail

    Mar 26, 2018 | Don Scallen | Environment

    Along the Bruce Trail, spring is the time to slow to a saunter 
and see, hear and scent nature’s renewal.

    Eastern red-spotted newt, juvenile or eft phase. Photo by Robert Mccaw.

    Vernal Pools

    Mar 20, 2017 | Don Scallen | Environment

    These fleeting spring wetlands are factories of biodiversity. Unusual winters threaten vernal pools, as do hot, dry summers.

    Chorus frogs are even smaller than spring peepers. They can perch comfortably on the ends of index fingers.

    Chorus Frogs

    May 14, 2018 | Don Scallen | Blogs

    Chorus frogs are vulnerable to a who’s who of predators from ground-foraging birds, to shrews, to big spiders to small snakes.

    The Jefferson Salamander

    Apr 5, 2011 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

    The Jefferson salamander is a cause célèbre locally because of its very restricted range in Canada.

    CSI: Natureworld The Case of Burying Beetle Bob

    Nov 2, 2018 | Don Scallen | Notes from the Wild

    A CSI probe into Bob’s disappearance has revealed damning evidence linking Sam to the incident!

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    By posting a comment you agree that IN THE HILLS magazine has the legal right to publish, edit or delete all comments for use both online or in print. You also agree that you bear sole legal responsibility for your comments, and that you will hold IN THE HILLS harmless from the legal consequences of your comment, including libel, copyright infringement and any other legal claims. Any comments posted on this site are NOT the opinion of IN THE HILLS magazine. Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed. Please report inappropriate comments to