A Dark & Rainy Night
On an abnormally warm & rainy night at the end of february 2013, Park Volunteer Joe Letsche and Park Biologist Dafna Reiner met at Hopewell Mound Group with the optimistic goal of spying a spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). Armed with rubber wading boots, flashlights and dip nets thet headed out into the late winter’s night with some ideas about good salamander habitats in the vast Hopewell Mound Group. It didn’t take long before they came upon a northern spring peeper with its trademark “X” pattern on its back and its ubiquitous call of “peep, peep”. This was definitely a good sign. Next, they came to an area that used to be an old pasture but was recently reverted back into forestland. Many of these low areas here are typically filled with water this time of the year.
As the two slogged through the water-logged lowlands, the vivid beams of their flashlights pierced through the night darkness and soon began to reflect on something familiar. Joe’s flashlight hit the glistened-back of a Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) and they immediately noticed the silver-blue specks that dotted its slate-colored body. The two of them knew they were getting closer to what they had set out for. A spotted salamander would make a fantastic addition to the park’s wildlife species list. As they trudged on, the rain began to fall, but both were happy to be showered upon because they knew that this was prime salamander weather.
It wasn’t long before thei flashlights hit something that looked like it was out of place for Ohio woodlands. It appeared to be a salamander, but they couldn’t be certain until they inched closer. The outline of the body resembled the salamander and upon closer inspection, they caught glimpse of the golden-yellow spots on its back. This little creature resembled something that belonged in the Amazon rainforest or the tropics of Southeast Asia, not Ohio. But this was it, this was the Spotted Salamander (seen above) that the pair had set upon to find. This large salamander ranges from six to nearly nine inches in length, but despite its large size it is seldom seen. The natural habitat of the Spotted Salamander is typically a forest with plenty of leaves covering the forest floor. It also needs vernal pools to lay eggs in. (Vernal pools are seasonally flooded areas which retain water through fall, winter and spring, but typically dry out in the summer). This dry period prevents the vernal pools from being populated by fish that may eat the salamander’s eggs and young. Interestingly, this species is fond of tunneling and spends most of its time underground where it is safe from the threat of predators. It emerges for breeding and foraging, but only at night, preferably during rainy spells. If a spotted salamander is injured by a predator it has the remarkable capability of regeneration to heal itself. This salamander can grow a new tail, a limb and even parts of damaged organs! Like most other amphibians, this species is sensitive to pollutants such as acid rain, road & agricultural runoff and suffers from habitat loss such as wetland fill-in and urban/rural development. What many people would think of as a wet and miserable night, turned out to be a biologist’s dream as it was perfect for salamander spotting, particularly the Spotted Salamander.