Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Plethodon cinereus

Finally! More local wildlife! We find these little guys, the eastern red back (or backed depending on who you ask) salamanders under bricks in our yard through late spring and summer. They were out pretty early this year and I took this photo a few weeks ago. They aren’t the easiest critters to shoot because their little legs are so tiny that they often get lost in the dirt. But they don’t move much when exposed…maybe they’re afraid of giants.

They are widely found in eastern North America: West to Missouri, South to North Carolina, and north to southern Quebec. They have no aquatic larval phase, very unusual for an amphibian, and so have colonized much of the eastern woodlands. Apparently 94% of amphibian biomass in New Hampshire is made of eastern red back salamanders. Not that amphibians are everywhere or particularly hardy creatures but I’m sure there are a fair number of frogs and toads living in NH woodlands.

They are an important part of the ecosystem both as a predator of vast amounts of invertebrate species including centipedes and larval insects and also as a food source for snakes, mammals and birds.

One thing I was wondering, which finally prompted me to do the research for this post, was how they would fair with this strange weather we’re having. It was quite warm for a while and they came out and now it is cold again, even freezing. But unlike many other amphibian species they do not seem to estivate or hibernate. During winter they stop shedding and have special body chemistry that keeps them from freezing. They will burrow underground and feed on insect eggs. Any time it gets warm enough, even in the middle of winter, they will come out to scavenge. So I guess they little guys are probably fine and have just burrowed back beneath the garden. One more headcount in the yard’s biodiversity.


Animal Diversity Web: University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

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