Saturday, June 6, 2009

Nature Study, Revisited: Salamanders

Last week, we visited an area park with some friends on a mission: find and catch salamanders. Turns out this is easier said than done (surprise!). Those little suckers really move!

The hunt began. We splashed through the creek, turning over rocks (perhaps scaring off any of our quarry in the immediate vicinity) and getting a bit muddy and wet, which, of course, was part of the fun. After a few botched attempts, Tiny Girl got one. It was small, since it's the time of year when the eggs have recently hatched.

We popped the poor little guy into our Creature Peeper and spent a few minutes observing it. Most salamanders have four toes on their front feet and five toes on their back feet, which we could clearly see. My friend had an amphibian guidebook with her, but we couldn't positively, 100 percent, identify our salamander. Since it was a youngster, perhaps it hadn't developed all its markings yet.

In case you didn't know (I didn't beforehand), salamanders are amphibians, like frogs, toads, and newts. These cold-blooded animals typically lay their eggs in water and the young are water-breathing. As they grow, they metamorphose into air-breathing adults who live in or near water. However, some salamander species are fully aquatic during their lifespan, and other species leave their wetland habitat and live completely on the land. Salamanders are capable of regenerating lost limbs, making them unique among all other vertebrates. All amphibians are "ecological indicators," and have experienced a sharp decline in numbers worldwide.

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