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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Spotted Salamander

At the end of my hike today at the Ozark Natural Science Center I took my group down the pond and we peeked under the rocks and logs near there. I knew that with the first warm rains of spring we were likely to see the rarely viewed spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). This beautiful creature is very secretive and spends most of its time underground in short-tail shrew holes and winters in the deep holes of white footed mice. These holes are so necessary that the spotted salamander range matches that of these mammals. The spotted salamander is nocturnal and ventures out to eat worms, insects, spiders, and snails.
Once a year, on the first warm, rainy night in spring, these amphibians emerge and dance in fish-less ponds. They have an elaborate mating dance in which the males fertilize the females' eggs. The eggs are laid in a ball of jelly. After a while the jelly will turn green. This green tint is due to a symbiotic relationship the eggs have with a certain species of algae (Oophila ambystomatis). The algae provides oxygen for the developing salamander embryos while the embryos provide carbon dioxide and waste which is nutrients to the algae. This relationship is mutualist, meaning both species are benefiting from the each other.
Though these salamanders use to emerge in hoards back in the '80 and would fill the roads on warm, rainy nights. However, these days they are becoming harder and harder to find. Vehicles are one of the many ways they are often killed. Also, amphibians are very sensitive to pollution and acidic waters.  Salamanders, like all amphibians, are bio indicators and their decline signals a general presence of pollution in our ecosystems as well as a decline in our water quality. To protect this species it is important to keep 200-500 meters of deciduous forests around vernal ponds (or temporary pools that are fish-free) clean and devoid of toxins or an abundance of acidic plants such as evergreen trees. Lets protect natural places so that the spotted salamanders can survive.

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