I was invited to search for mudpuppies in a Wellington County stream last December.
Streams and lakes in Ontario, including those in Headwaters, are home to fantastic animals that most of us will never see – the whimsically-named mudpuppies. Our largest salamanders, they ultimately grow about the length of your forearm.
As carnivores, they crawl from hiding spaces under stones and rock ledges in the dead of night to prowl streambeds for fish, crayfish and carrion. In the darkness they likely track their prey by following chemical cues.
Due to their nocturnal habits and bodies patterned like river stones, they are seldom seen. My guess, however, is that they are far from rare.
Mudpuppies, unlike most other amphibians, do not undergo metamorphosis and they retain their gills – fleshy growths on the side of their heads – throughout their lives.
They also differ from most of their amphibian relatives by remaining active throughout the year. In fact, mudpuppy searches are usually conducted after dark during the winter.
Speaking of which, I was invited to search for mudpuppies in a Wellington County stream last December. Five of us, donning chest waders over layers of clothing, slipped into the icy water at about 9pm. We searched the bottom with headlamps and flashlights.
All I noticed were sleepy fish – reward enough for a naturalist like me – but soon a voice rang out that a mudpuppy had been found. I plowed through the current to behold the first live mudpuppy I had ever observed in its natural habitat. Exhilarating!
The great salamander patrolled the bottom in a slow, methodical manner. If it was unduly bothered by our flashlight beams, it didn’t show it.
Now in my seventh decade, I continue to be thrilled by new discoveries like this mudpuppy. And it’s great to know that nature has a store of surprises that I will never exhaust. I will never want for wonder.