The Secretive Salamander

[Apologies for the poor quality photos, but I thought it was interesting enough to post anyway.]

On our doorstep at 10pm on May 11, in the pitch-dark, was a Spotted Salamander, Ambystoma maculatum. They are quite large, maybe 7 inches long, and this one may have been en route to lay eggs in our small pond.

Spotted Salamander

I brought it inside to photograph, but it didn’t like the light, so I cut the photoshoot short, took it back out, and replaced it on the earth next to where we found it. In the morning it was gone, hopefully heading off for a tryst in my pond…

But then I went to a nearby vernal pool, and found some eggs,

Spotted Salamander EWggs

which I carefully replaced in the pond to create lots of new black and yellow monsters. This was early May; by August they look like this, recognizably a salamander, but still with external gills. That’s what three months of development can do:


(The photo above was taken three years ago.)

And early one hot summer morning a couple of years ago a miniature one had found refuge in a cooler full of ice left out after a party:

Spotted salamander, Ambystola maculatum

Their population is stable, and they can live for 10 years. They live under rocks and logs, emerging only at night, returning to the pond in spring to mate and lay their eggs. This secretive life style makes them hard to see. Many years ago we found one in our dark cool basement, where it seemed to have spent the winter. Indeed, the one we saw on our doorstep may have just emerged from the basement, which is built of hand-hewn granite blocks from 1810 when the house was built, and is full of damp crevices through which a salamander could wriggle.

P.S. For a long time I thought salamanders were what Americans called newts. `It turns out however that salamanders are the larger family, which includes newts as a sub-group. Newts are semi-aquatic even as adults, with webbed feet. True salamanders are terrestrial except when mating, and have feet adapted for digging.


4 thoughts on “The Secretive Salamander”

  1. Maybe Salamander came back to see if you could share some more ice from a party. I so love all these very dear critters & learning more about them, and am always so thrilled to see frogs, toads, salamanders in our yard & woods. Thank you for sharing!


  2. Those external gills look pretty wild! How did you become so knowledgeable about so many varied wildlife creatures, when you are a Linguistics Professor? And an amazing talent for photographing everything!


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