Lesson Plan

Spotted Salamanders: Love those Spots!

Male Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) found along the Natchez Trace Parkway.
NPS Photo

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Subject:
Biology: Animals, Ecology
Duration:
30-45 minutes, depending on discussion time
Group Size:
Up to 36
Setting:
classroom
National/State Standards:
Life Science: 3a, 3e
Keywords:
metamorphosis, Amphibian, spotted salamander, poisonous, adaptations

Overview

Spotted Salamanders have yellow spots which warn predators that they are poisonous. While not lethally toxic, their poison makes them taste very bitter to an animal that would like to eat them.  Salamanders lay eggs in water and juveniles metamorphose and lizards lay eggs on land and juveniles resemble adults. 

Objective(s)

Enduring Understanding: Animal species have characteristics that help to define them.

Essential Question: Why are spotted salamanders spotted with bright colors?

The student will:

1.) Use descriptive words to describe

2.) Learn that bright colors on animals are often warnings and protect the animal from predators.



Background

Spotted salamanders are common through much of the United States. They have bright spots that function as a warning to ward off predators. They have a very bitter taste and are slightly toxic. These salamanders migrate to vernal home pools to lay eggs on cool, rainy nights. Unfortunately many get run over. The Natchez Trace Parkway now has signs posted to help warn motorists in areas of heavy migration. See the fact sheet for more complete information.

Materials

1.) Spotted Salamander Fact Sheet

2.) Spotted Salamander Coloring Page and Photo

3.) Photo Pack

4.) Photos of brightly colored toxic insects and camouflaged non-toxic insects (http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent425/tutorial/Ecology/defense.html)

5.) Crayons

6.) Option: A loudly colored stuffed animal that is not representative of the actual coloration of the animal it represents: For example, a lime green-pink polka dotted stuffed pony



Procedure

Summary:

1) Learn about the spotted salamander

2) Learn that bright spots on an animal can mean danger.

3) Learn that salamanders are not lizards, salamanders lay eggs in water, like frogs.

4) Correctly color a picture of a spotted salamander,

Optional: Compare reasons that the colors of toy animals and real animals have different objectives.

Instructions:

1. Show students pictures of a spotted salamander and lead class discussion

Ask the students:

a. What is this? (if students say lizard, explain to them that it is a salamander and lays eggs in water, and the lizards lay eggs on land)

b. Has anyone ever seen a spotted salamander? (Explain that they live in most states and there are a lot that live along the Natchez Trace Parkway a special place where animals are protected.)

c. What do they look like? (Have student use descriptive words)

d. Do you like the way they look? Why or why not?

e. Why do you think they have bright yellow spots? (Their bright yellow spots are like a stop sign, and warn animals to STOP I taste terrible!)

f. Have you ever tasted a lemon? (Explain that these salamanders would taste like a very strong lemon)

g. How does tasting terrible protect an animal? (It will be spit out, and the predator will not try that food again.)

h. Can you think of any other animals that are black and yellow? (bees) i. What about black and white? (skunks)

2. Show students pictures of brightly colored insects and tan insects. Ask the students which ones they think may be poisonous to eat.

3. Have the students color pictures of the spotted salamander.

4. Optional: Show students brightly colored toy animals and discuss why the toys are brightly colored (to look cute and attract people). Compare that to real animals.

Assessment

1. Contribution to class discussion: does the student appropriately contribute to discussion?

2. Accuracy in coloring the picture: does the student follow directions and match the colors of a real spotted salamander?



Park Connections

The Natchez Trace Parkway has a salamander crossing near the Jackson, MS area. Speed limits are reduced through this area during migration. Many salamanders are killed by vehicles during migration. The Natchez Trace Parkway in attempting to help to protect the salamanders by using flashing signs that light up on cool rainy nights when the salamanders migrate.

Extensions

Option: Comparing toy animal with actual spotted salamander.

Why is this (pony) is brightly colored?

• Answers will vary but should cover the idea that many people like brightly colored objects.

Is this the way real (ponies) are colored?

Teacher can show pictures of real ponies.

Teacher Closure: Tell students that if they see a brightly colored stuffed animal it means "Cuddle" but in nature bright markings it often means "keep back!"



Additional Resources

Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Marwil Lamstein (available for check out under Materials)

Vocabulary

salamander, poison, bitter

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