Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) has designated 2014 the Year of the Salamander (last year was Year of the Snake), and as a proud partner and contributor to the campaign, I will be posting and tweeting things about salamanders all year long!
Here’s the down low on these amphibians. There are over 600 species of salamanders and North America is home to over 150 of these species. What I found interesting is that these animals can be found mostly in the Northern hemisphere. They are spread out across much of the Americas and Eurasia, but cannot be found in Africa or any of the island nations such as Australia.
They range from the tiny Thorius arboreus found in Mexico and measuring in at an average 17.0 mm, to the giant Chinese salamander, Andrias davidianus, with an average size of 115 cm (3.77 ft) but with a potential of 180 cm (5.9 ft).
Some have mastered the art of camouflage while others are vibrant blues, greens, yellows, or oranges. Like certain reptiles, salamanders can regenerate limbs and some have tails that may fall off during attack, allowing them to escape. A few species, such as the two-toed amphiuma, have vestigial limbs and may be mistaken for eels. They are semi-aquatic or aquatic in nature. Their skin is permeable to water and gas exchange. Some adult salamanders have lungs, some have gills, and some neither, breathing directly through their skin instead.
Unlike the hard shelled eggs of birds and reptiles, salamanders lay shell-less eggs and therefore do not retain moisture on their own. In order to compensate for this, some species of salamander attach their eggs to plants under water while others lay/hide eggs in moist locations nearby, guarded by the mother. Like other amphibians such as frogs, many salamander species hatch from eggs into larvae, with gills and initially no limbs. The limbs develop as the larvae grow. Several species do not have a larval stage and hatch fully developed.
There is so much cool stuff to learn about when it comes to salamanders! You are in for quite a treat, too, if you’re interested. Since this year is Year of the Salamander, PARC has a whole lot going on! They issue a newsletter full of fun facts each month, so go hurry up and check out February! They have monthly calendars of events (mostly for the U.S.)! There is a video and photo contest where you can get involved! For you educators there is a lot of material to use to teach students about salamanders. I helped create a PowerPoint presentation that does just that. There is even a store to buy some cool Year of the Salamander things if you are interested.
I fondly remember my first, solid experience with salamanders. If you’re a long time reader you may recall my The Wildlife Society field techniques course posts, but if not, go check them out. It was here that I participated in a herpetofaunal (reptile and amphibian) survey that showed us the ropes. Very valuable experience. I fell in love with the little creatures, and it was this that allowed me to volunteer my time to conduct a larger herpetofaunal survey for the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, where I surveyed for 6 months in 12 different sites. If you ignore the mosquitoes, and believe me, I tried, I had a lot of fun! While I found mostly frogs and toads, with a few snakes and a turtle thrown in, I was able to find a couple red-backed salamanders and what I think was a juvenile spotted salamander, hiding in the leaf litter! Curious? Check out my previous posts on observing metamorphosis, my conclusions, and some of my favorite pictures!
You can join the Year of the Salamander’s Facebook page if you want to stay current, but you can also sign up to receive the newsletters and calendars in your email each month. I’ll be posting things about salamanders on and off all year, either here or on my Twitter account. You can follow me, WolvesOnceRoamd, on Twitter (not only do I post blog posts but I share a lot of science articles I think you may enjoy), but if you don’t, over there on the right side of this blog you can find the Twitter feed and see the postings there too.
Salamanders are important for our environment and they are just cool creatures too. This campaign is an excellent opportunity for people to learn all about them, including their roles in their ecosystems and how people just like you can help them.