Garter snake – Thamnophis sirtalis, Facts

 Common garter snakes are highly variable in color pattern.

Picture taken by steve hillebrand

General: The Common garter snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, is one of the most common species of snake in their native habitats across much of North America. This non-venomous, cold-blooded snake is highly adaptable, thriving in urban and suburban environments and gardens, much to the dismay of the gardeners.

Description: Common garter snakes are an abundant, cold-blooded species exhibiting high levels of variation in coloration and appearance. Dozens of subspecies that have been identified by distinct color variations; however, variation in color has been found within populations, indicating that coloration alone may not be enough to identify a subspecies1.

Common garter snakes grow throughout the duration of their lives and are, on average, 18” to 26” in length but may grow as long as 49”2. Males and females are similar in coloration but males are smaller than females with longer tails relative to their size. The head, compared to the neck and body, is wide. Scales of the Common garter snake are keeled, meaning there is an elevated ridge running the length of each scale3. Body coloration may range from black, red, brown, gray to green.

Populations living in Florida and southern Georgia generally have bluish coloration on their bodies4. The underside, chin and throat (generally similar in color to the stripes on the body) may be green, blue-gray, green, or white, occasionally with black spots. There are typically three stripes running the length of the body on scales 2 and 3 (ranging from yellow, brown, blue, orange, gray, green, or white in color,) the middle stripe running down the center of the back. These stripes may be solid or may become undefined or entirely absent. In some specimens, two rows may join to form a thick bar or may become checkered or spotted in appearance5. Some populations of Common garter snakes exhibit red or orange coloration between the scales. This coloration may extend to the tips of the scales. The top of the head is generally dark with a pair of spots that are light or almost white in color. The eyes are large, relative to the size of the head. Upper lip scales are marked by dark vertical bars and the tongue is red and tipped in black.

Common garter snakes live an average of 2 years in the wild and 6 to 10 years in captivity. One Common garter snake living in captivity survived to 20 years of age6.

Since Common garter snakes are cold blooded, they must use thermoregulation to maintain an appropriate body temperature of 28° to 32° C7. To do this, snakes bask in sunlight during the morning and as body temperatures fall during the day, snakes become less active. Despite Common garter snakes being a solitary species, they are known to gather at night to sleep in groups to avoid becoming too cold. Common garter snakes can be active throughout the year and may be seen basking atop snow on warm winter days. This particular species is active across a greater temperature range than many other species of snakes due to a greater tolerance of cold, enabling one of the shortest hibernation periods of all snake species in nearctic habitats. Common garter snakes hibernate in large numbers during the winter, from October to early April, in natural cavities (such as crayfish or mammal burrows or ant mounds,) under debris such as rocks or tree stumps, in dams, or on hillsides. Sleeping in tightly coiled groups allows snakes to maintain body temperatures. Hibernation sites are different from summer grounds (used for feeding and breeding,) and snakes have been known to travel great distances from one site to the other.
Common garter snakes use touch and smell to communicate with one another, generally for reproductive purposes. Before mating, males secrete pheromones to attract females coming out of hibernation. Snakes use their tongues to sample chemicals from the air (including these pheromones,) using a specialized organ located on the roof of the mouth to decipher these chemicals. Common garter snakes are also able to sense vibrations and have developed vision8.

Habitat: Common garter snakes inhabit a variety of moist environments, such as woodlands, marshes and meadows. They prefer maintaining close proximity to water and cover under grass or brush, opting for pond or lake edges, streams, or ditches. In the case that water is not readily available, Common garter snakes have been known to travel long distances to locate a new source.

A highly adaptable species, Common garter snakes can survive extreme conditions9. Their adaptability allows them to thrive in urban and suburban settings.

Within their native habitats, Common garter snakes fall prey to many predators, including snapping turtles, foxes, squirrels, great blue herons, hawks, larger snakes, skunks, raccoons, opossum, American crows, bullfrogs and large fish. To avoid predators, Common garter snakes may hide in grass stripes (using their strips as camouflage,) or flee to water, but when attacked, they tend to coil to appear larger, strike and bite10. When caught, Common garter snakes release an unpleasant secretion from glands located at the base of the tail.

Threats: Common garter snakes are considered a low risk species; however, certain threats exist that are detrimental to population numbers. Urbanization has lead to a loss of the Common garter snake’s native habitats. Pesticides and chemicals also damage habitats. Common garter snakes have also experienced a decrease in food supplies, due to disease and competition by invasive species. Snakes living in developed areas often fall prey to dogs, cats, automobiles or lawnmowers and face the risk of being captured for domestication.

Location: Common garter snakes reside in the nearctic region, and may be found in a variety of habitats across much of North America, including woodlands, marshes, meadows, and hillsides. Populations may be found as far south as Florida’s western coast on the Gulf of Mexico, north to British Columbia, and west to California. The Common garter snake is generally absent from arid environments like the American Southwest, although several isolated populations exist in New Mexico and northern areas of Mexico11.

Diet: Common garter snakes are low-level predators, feeding mainly on earthworms and amphibians. Their diets also include insects, frogs, toads, salamanders, snails, leeches, slugs, crayfish, fish, tadpoles, snakes, baby birds and bird eggs, small lizards, and small mammals (such as mice.) These snakes are skilled swimmers, swimming slowly and locating prey with their highly developed senses of smell and sight. They capture prey using a variety of hunting methods, including craning, peering, and ambushing12. The saliva of the Common garter snake is slightly toxic, partially immobilizing their small prey, making it easier for the snake to swallow their meal whole. The quick reflexes and sharp teeth of the Common garter snake make them a well-honed predator in their habitats.

Toads and some other amphibians emit toxic chemicals to ward off predators; however, the Common garter snake is one of the few species able to consume these animals, unaffected by the chemicals.

Reproduction: The Common garter snake is a viviparous species, meaning that it bears live young. Mating occurs in the spring, immediately after snakes emerge from hibernation dens. The males exit first, surrounding the females as they emerge, secreting pheromones that will attract them. The females select their mate and as mating begins, snakes coil together, forming a breeding ball. After mating, females return to their summer habitats to feed and locate appropriate birthing areas. The males stay near the hibernation den to try and mate again with remaining females. Some females may chose not to mate in a particular season since they have the ability to store sperm from previous mating13.

Gestation lasts for 8 to 12 weeks, as young snakes are incubated in the female’s lower abdomen. Females typically give birth to litters containing 10 to 80 young snakes that are 5” to 9” in length14. Young snakes, similar in appearance to adults, are born between late July and October and are immediately independent, responsible for finding their own food and survival. The young tend to remain in close proximity to their mothers for up to a few days despite the mother offering no care15. Common garter snakes grow quickly and reach sexual maturity in 1.5 to 2 years (males generally reaching sexual maturity first.)

Notes of Interest

Despite often being feared, Common garter snakes should be a welcomed part of any garden as they aid in controlling insect and pest populations.

Common garter snakes may be tamed with appropriate handling, resulting in their popularity as pets.

The saliva of the Common garter snake may cause an allergic reaction in individuals who have handled a snake or been bitten16.

The San Francisco garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis tetrataenia,) a subspecies of the Common garter snake, is an endangered species and in 1967 was placed on the U.S. and California Endangered Species lists.

Footnotes

1. http://www.arkive.org/common-garter-snake/thamnophis-sirtalis/
2. http://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/thasir.htm
3. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
4. http://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/thasir.htm
5. http://www.arkive.org/common-garter-snake/thamnophis-sirtalis/
6. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
7. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
8. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
9. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
10. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
11. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
12. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
13. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
14. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
15. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
16. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/

http://srelherp.uga.edu/snakes/thasir.htm
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Thamnophis_sirtalis/
http://www.inhs.illinois.edu/animals_plants/herps/species/th_sirtali.html
http://www.arkive.org/common-garter-snake/thamnophis-sirtalis/
http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/eastern_garter_snake.htm

Spring Peeper – Pseudacris crucifer

General: Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) are known for their songs that are Learn all you wanted to know about spring peepers with picturesoften considered a melodic announcement of spring. Although these chorus frogs are known for their sounds, these tiny amphibians are rarely scene due in part to their camouflaged pigmentation and nocturnal habits.

Description: Spring Peepers are a diminutive amphibian, measuring a mere ¾” to 1½” in length and 3g to 5g in weight when fully grown. In addition to their petite size, their coloration aids in providing camouflage, making them elusive and hard to spot. Males and females are similar in appearance. Spring Peepers are generally tan, brown, olive or grey, accented with dark lines across their backs that form “X” patterns and dark bands around their legs and between their eyes. They may sometimes have a reddish or orange pigmentation. Spring Peepers have cream or white undersides and throats, although males display gray throats during the mating season. Spring Peepers are capable of a degree of color-change and can lighten or darken their pigmentation based on their surroundings. They have moderate webbing on their feet and large, round, sticky toe pads that aid in climbing1, although they rarely climb higher than 3’ off the ground. Spring Peepers can be identified by the large ‘vocal sacks’ located under their chins. In order to produce their signature songs, Spring Peepers inflate these sacs with air to a size equal to their entire bodies2.

Subspecies of the Spring Peeper may be identified by unique coloration. Northern Spring Peepers tend to have unmarked bellies while Southern Spring Peepers have spotted bellies3.

Spring Peepers are best known for their high-pitched songs, harkening the start of spring in northern habitats as males begin performing mating displays in March. However, southern Spring Peepers begin their mating songs as early as November, causing the name Spring Peeper to be quite ironic for these populations. Their monosyllabic whistle is often mistaken for the chirp of crickets as it is repeated at a rate of 20 times a minute, although crickets are only heard in the late summer and fall. Spring Peepers may be heard on rainy or cloudy days but are most frequently active on warm, damp nights. By late summer their calls have usually fallen silent but they can be heard again ringing from forests during the fall. Spring Peepers sometimes slur together two syllables and produce a trill-like sound. Males sing in trios and the males with the deepest calls typically lead the choruses. Groups of singing Spring Peepers are often described as sounding like sleigh bells.

Spring Peepers hibernate during the winter in spaces beneath tree bark or under logs, allowing their bodies to almost entirely freeze. In order to survive, Spring Peepers produce and store high levels of glucose in their cells that prevents cells from freezing and rupturing, preserving the frog until the spring thaw.

While their lifespan in the wild is still unknown, Spring Peepers live, on average, 3 to 4 years in captivity4.

Habitat: Spring Peepers live in close proximity to water sources such as ponds, streams, marshes and temporary pools and inhabit swampy wooded areas, and grassy lowlands. They spend the majority of the year amidst debris on forest floors but mate and deposit their eggs in the water.

Within their habitats Spring Peepers are preyed on by birds, snakes, and some mammals. Aquatic insects, turtles, and fish consume their eggs and tadpoles.

Location: Populations of Spring Peepers can be found in eastern and central portions of the United States and Canada. Native populations have been found as far south as eastern Texas and northern Florida and introduced populations have been reported in Cuba.

Diet: Spring Peepers are carnivorous, consuming a diet of beetles, flies, ants, spiders, mosquitoes, gnats, aphids, termites, and crickets. Spring Peepers hunt and feed on forest floors and in low vegetation, rarely exceeding an elevation of 3’.

Reproduction: Spring Peepers breed once annually, from November to March in southern habitats and from March to June in northern areas. The breeding season begins as males emerge from hibernation and commence their mating songs during damp, warm nights. Males gather by the hundreds around water sources, singing in trios and establishing individual territories. Females choose their mates by the quality and frequency of their calls and their overall size.

Spring Peepers mate and deposit their eggs in freshwater ponds or temporary pools that lack fish, showing preference for areas deeper than those used by other species. Males play no reproductive role beyond fertilization. Females deposit the eggs with a nourishing yolk but provide no additional parental care. Females deposit up to 1000 eggs, which measure 1mm in diameter, individually or in clusters of two to three along submerged vegetation. Eggs double in size when fully hydrated and hatch within 6 to 12 days, depending on temperatures. Embryos and larvae are sensitive to water conditions and cannot survive in a pH ranging from 4.2 to 4.5. During the larval stage, tadpoles feed on algae and aquatic organisms. Spring Peepers are slightly larger in their larval stage than when fully mature. The length of the larval stage is partially dependent on water conditions and availability, but ranges from 45 to 90 days.

Spring Peepers reach sexual maturity in 2 to 3 years5.

Notes of Interest: Spring Peepers’ scientific classification, crucifer, is Latin for ‘cross-bearer,’ appropriately assigned to this tiny frog who bears an x-shaped marking on its back.

The choral song produced by groups of Spring Peepers is similar to the sound of jingle bells and has earned them the nickname Pinkletinks from residents of Martha’s Vineyard6.

Footnotes
1. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/spring-peeper/
2. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/features/spring_peepers.asp
3. http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/detail.asp?recnum=AR0014
4. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Pseudacris_crucifer/
5. http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Pseudacris_crucifer/
6. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/features/spring_peepers.asp

http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/detail.asp?recnum=AR0014
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/amphibians/spring-peeper/
http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/spring_peeper.htm
http://www.cmnh.org/site/ResearchandCollections/VertebrateZoology/Research/Treefrogs/NSpringPeeper.aspx
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Pseudacris_crucifer/
http://www.dnr.state.md.us/features/spring_peepers.asp

American Toad – Bufo americanus

General: The American Toad (Bufo americanus) is a common inhabitant of The American toad (Bufo americanus) is a common species of toad found throughout the eastern United States and Canadagardens and shady backyard spaces across much of North America. These amphibians are often identified first by their musical trills, heard on warm nights in the spring and fall. Stout and stubby in appearance, it is comical to watch an American Toad lumbering across organic debris and vegetation. American Toads have the greatest geographic range of all toad species in North America and have no special conservation designation.

Description: American Toads are rotund amphibians that reach an adult size of 2” to 4.5” long, females usually reaching a greater overall size than males. They are often described as chubby and stout, with short limbs, wide heads, and muscular hind legs. The front legs have four toes, while the back legs have five webbed toes. American Toads have black ovular pupils often circled with gold and prominent cranial ridges with lateral branches that extend behind the eyes1. The cranial crests occur in front of two large parotid glands, which may be identified by their bean-shape, that are capable of producing a foul smelling chemical used to ward off predators. Their thick, rough skin ranges from brown, gray, brick red or olive in color and is accented by noticeable warts. These warts, which are yellow or brown, appear singly or in pairs and are contained within large brown or black spots across the back. These spots may be circled by yellow or white. Some toads have patterns of light, yellow, or buff on their bodies, which may create a light ‘stripe’ down the back. Males and females have white or yellow undersides with dark speckling, but males often display a darker throat that is black or brown2. The skin of American Toads may change color due to temperature, time of day, humidity, stress, age or sex. American Toads shed their external skin four times a year. The skin is sloughed off in one piece and then consumed by the toad. Immature American Toads shed their skin every few weeks3.

Two subspecies of the American Toad exist. Dwarf American Toads, Bufo americanus charlesmithi, are typically found in western parts of the geographic range and can be identified by their smaller size (adults reaching only 2.5” in length,) dark red coloration, and fewer or no spots on their backs (spots that are present contain one wart, at most.) The Eastern American Toad, Bufo americanus americanus, inhabits the eastern portions of the range and is medium in size (reaching lengths of 3.5”,) has variable coloration, has one to two warts contained within each spot, enlarged warts on the lower legs, and speckling only on the front half of the belly4. American Toads are often confused with Fowler’s Toads because of their similar appearances. However, where the American Toad only has one or two warts in each spot, a Fowler’s Toad has several warts in each spot on its back.

American Toads produce a high-pitched trill, most often heard during the early spring (when calling mates,) or in the fall (when locating a hibernation area,) that is held for 4 to 30 seconds. Males produce this call by inflating their round vocal sac, called the dewlap, and use it to attract females during the breeding season. At the height of the season calls can sound frantic and loud as males compete for mates. In addition to their recognizable calls, American Toads also use touch, chemical cues and posture to communicate5. In response to predators, American Toads may release a toxic chemical from their parotid glands, play dead or puff-up their bodies to appear larger.

American Toads are nocturnal and are most active during warm and humid weather. During the day they tend to burrow into soil or leaf litter, or under rocks or logs6. They are also a solitary species, only social when at breeding ponds during the mating season. During the winter, American Toads burrow into soil below the frost line, continuing to burrow further as the frost deepens.

In captivity American Toads have been known to live to over 30 years old. However, in the wild, many tadpoles perish before completing their complete metamorphosis into mature toads. Adult toads live, on average, a couple years in the wild but have been known to live as long as ten years.

Habitat: American Toads are a highly adaptable species and can be found in a variety of habitats. Preference changes seasonally but American Toads generally require some source of moisture, vegetation for burrowing and hunting, and a constant supply of food.

During the breeding season, American Toads inhabit areas that provide a body of freshwater that is either temporary or permanent. These areas include wetlands, temporary pools, shallow bays, swamps, streams, and ditches. These freshwater bodies are used for mating and depositing eggs as well as throughout the early development of tadpoles.

After the spring breeding season, American Toads are able to move further from water sources and can be found in forests, meadows, woodlands, shady suburban yards, grasslands, gardens, farmlands, and prairies. Their muscular hind legs make it possible to move amongst the leaf litter and debris on the ground.

During winter hibernation, American Toads burrow into the ground, remaining below the frost line.

Predators of the American Toad include snakes, skunks, owls and raccoons, although predators are often deterred by the toxic chemicals released by the parotid glands and the bitter tasting skin. Raccoons have adapted to this occurrence by eating from the undersides of toads, far from the chemical producing glands.

Location: American Toads are found across most of North America (except for most southern states) since they are a highly adaptable species that only requires seasonal water for breeding7.

Diet: American Toads are carnivores, consuming a massive quantity –up to 1000 insects a day- of insects, spiders, snails, slugs, and worms. They catch prey by thrusting out their sticky tongues and using their forearms to hold large prey and pack it into their mouths. While American Toads do not drink water, they are able to absorb moisture from their environments through their thick, rough skin.

Tadpoles are herbivorous, consuming aquatic vegetation along the edges of their freshwater habitats.

Reproduction: American Toads are polygamous and mate once annually, typically between April and July. Breeding activity is triggered by the rising temperatures and lengthening days of spring. Male toads arrive at breeding ponds before females in order to establish territories. These congregations of males produce their signature calls to attract females, who select mates based on the quality of their calls and breeding territories8.

Males grasp the larger females from behind during egg deposit and fertilization in a position called amplexus. Females lay between 4000 to 8000 1.5mm counter-shaded eggs (white on the bottom and black on the top for camouflage,) within long tubes of jelly attached to submerged vegetation. Females provide nutrients to the eggs internally but males and females provide no parental care past egg fertilization and deposit. Females prefer breeding ponds without fish to ensure greater survival rates for their offspring. The eggs will hatch in 3 to 12 days, with maturation rates depending on environmental temperatures9.

The tiny tadpoles hatch with rounded tails and bodies, gills on the sides of their heads, and smooth black skin, which emits defensive chemicals (similar to adults) for defense. Tadpoles swim in schools and consume plant matter that will fuel their steady growth into mature toads. For 50 to 60 days following hatching, tadpoles go through a process called metamorphosis, in which they transform into miniature versions of mature toads. Over the first 20 days, tadpoles develop hind legs. The front legs develop between 30 and 40 days old, emerging from underneath a layer of skin. During this period, tadpoles begin breathing air as their gills disappear. Over the last few days of metamorphosis, tadpoles reabsorb their tales and begin eating animal matter10. Tadpoles reach a length of just over a centimeter before transforming into toadlets, or small versions of fully mature toads that are between .8cm and 1.3cm in length11. These young toads remain in close proximity to the breeding pond for several days after completing metamorphosis and then move into terrestrial habitats12. American Toads reach sexual maturity in two to three years.

Notes of Interest: Despite popular belief, humans cannot get warts from touching a toad. It is, however, advisable to use caution when handling these creatures because the chemicals released from the parotid glands can cause irritation if they are consumed or come in contact with your skin or eyes.

Footnotes
1. http://www.uri.edu/cels/nrs/paton/LH_ea_toad.html
2. http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/american_toad.htm
3. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/
4. http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/herps/amphibid/species/american.htm
5. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/
6. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/
7. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/
8. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/
9. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/
10. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/
11. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/
12. http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/

http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/american_toad.htm
http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/reptiles_amphibians/frogs_toads/toads/american.html
http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/tabid/6602/Default.aspx
http://www.biokids.umich.edu/critters/Bufo_americanus/
http://www.uri.edu/cels/nrs/paton/LH_ea_toad.html
http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/herps/amphibid/species/american.htm

Arizona Black Rattlesnake – Crotalus cerberus

Spotted Salamander – Ambystoma maculatum

General: The Spotted Salamander is one of the larger members of the mole salamander family reaching lengths Spotted Salamander - Ambystoma maculatumof nearly 8 inches or more. The dorsal background color is black, dark brown or dark gray with a slate gray belly. Young individuals sometimes have a dark brown background color. The background color is broken up by the presence of yellow spots arranged in two irregular rows running along the sides from the head to the tail. The first pair of spots (from the head) are usually orange. They are most likely to be confused with the Eastern Tiger Salamander, but the yellow spots on this species are more irregular in both form and placement.

They have the ability to drop their tails, to distract predators. If a predator of the spotted salamander manages to dismember a part of a leg, tail, or even parts of the brain/head, then it can grow back a new one, although this takes a massive amount of energy. The spotted salamander, like other salamanders show great regenerative abilities, even being able to regenerate limbs and parts of organs. They have large poison glands around the back and neck, which release a toxic white liquid.

Average Size: Average size of an adult is 5-8 inches long, with some over 9 inches long

Spotted Salamander - Ambystoma maculatumLife Span: Spotted salamanders may live more than 20 years

Diet: Spotted salamanders eat invertebrates such as earthworms and insects or anything else they can catch and swallow. So what other small frogs, newts etc would eat is what the spotted salamander would eat.

Habitat: Spotted salamanders are common in bottomland forests near floodplains, but also occur in upland forests and in mountainous regions. Like other closely related species of mole salamanders, spotted salamanders spend most of their lives on land and migrate to ponds for breeding. Nearly all of their time is spent underground in burrows of other animals. Occasionally, they are found above ground on damp or humid nights. The only time they are found above ground in numbers are during heavy spring and fall rains while they migrate to and from overwintering sites.

Normal Behavior and Interaction: Spotted salamanders are fairly solitary animals. Interaction is mostly during breeding season. The adults migrate to the breeding ponds during periods of heavy snowmelt, warm spring rains, or humid nights if there is no rain. The two pictures here were taken during a spring migration in Binghamton, New York. There were over one-hundred spotted salamanders attempting to cross a road – they were protected by a group of SUNY – Binghamton students that kept them from being run over by cars. It is thought this is not uncommon and that migrations appear to be synchronized.

Males court the females by nudging and rubbing them with their snouts. The male drops a spermatophore, which the female walks over and picks up with her cloacal lips. Males may drop nearly 100 spermatophores in a season. The breeding period lasts from a couple nights to over a week. The time varies by location. The females then lay from 1 to 200 eggs in a globular mass. The mass is attached to twigs or other underwater structures; very rarely they are laid on the bottom. The mass is covered with a jelly-like coating which may be clear or white. The eggs hatch in only a few weeks. The larvae actively feed and grow for 2 to 4 months. The larval stage varies based on geographic location and water temperature. Spotted Salamander territory

Larvae will transform into adults in two to four months. Until that time they will continue living in water, eating insect larvae, water fleas, and other small creatures. If there isn’t enough food, they will even eat each other.

When they leave the water as adults, the young salamanders are about two and a half inches long. They survive best in ponds that do not contain fish, which will eat larvae.

It has been written that acid rain has greatly diminished this species. The ponds have become too acid for eggs to develop thus causing whole areas to die out.

Territory: Spotted salamanders Range as far east as Maine – west to the Great Lakes, South to Louisiana and Georgia

Eastern Red-backed Salamander – Plethodon cinereus

General – The Red-backed Salamander is the most commonly encountered salamander throughout most of its range. The Red-backed Salamander is characterized by the red stripe which begins immediately behind the head and extends nearly to the tip of the tail. The red stripe is usually very straight throughout its entire length alonEastern Red-backed Salamander - Plethodon cinereusg the body and generally covers the entire back of the salamander. In some populations the red color of the stripe is replaced by dark gray (above right). This is called the lead-backed phase. The belly is finely mottled with equal amounts of white and black creating a “salt and pepper” effect. Red-backed salamanders have 16 to 19 grooves on their sides. They have no circular constriction at the base of their tails, and they have five toes on their hind feet and four toes on their front feet. Males and females look the same.

The Red-backed Salamander along with all salamanders within the family Plethodontidae are lungless. Nearly all of their respiration takes place through cutaneous gas exchange. This means that they breathe through their skin. The remaining gas exchange takes place through buccopharyngeal (within the mouth) respiration. Unlike most salamanders, Red-backs do not spend any part of their lives in the water. They are completely terrestrial (though dependent upon moisture). (Note that these salamanders sometimes lose portions of their tails during encounters with predators).

Average Size – Red-backed normally reach a length between 2 1/2″ to 5 ”

Eastern Red-backed Salamander - Plethodon cinereusLife Span – Red-backed salamanders can live for several years, in some cases up to 10 years.

Diet – Red-backed salamanders feed on a large variety of invertebrates. These include mites, spiders, insects, centipedes, millipedes, beetles, snails, ants, earthworms, flies, and larvae. They forage by thrusting out their tongue in a quick, forward motion to capture their prey.

Normal Behavior and Interaction – They are relatively solitary and defend small territories in which they feed. Red-backed Salamanders protect their limited food supply by marking out territories. This behavior occurs most often when moisture levels are low and the salamanders have to hide under logs or rocks. Both males and females leave scent marks on the ground as well as leaving their droppings. Other salamanders can learn a lot from these clues. They learn each others territorial boundaries, the size and importance of the salamanders that live in the area, and their identity, including whether or not they are related. When finding food is very hard due to dry conditions, adults who have their own territories will sometimes allow young salamanders that are related to them to use their territories. Intruders are also warned away by seeing the size of the salamander and watching it give threatening displays.

Red-backed salamanders come out from their hiding places at night after a rain. This is when they do most of their hunting. Red-backed salamanders can survive these times with little food because they are pulse feeders, which means they eat large amounts when conditions are good and store the extra nourishment as fat to live off of when conditions are bad.

Eastern Red-backed Salamander rangeRange – Red-backed salamanders are native to the Nearctic (temperate) region only. They live in Eastern North America. Their range extends west to Missouri; south to North Carolina; and north from southern Quebec and the Maritime Provinces in Canada to Minnesota. They are most common in areas of appropriate habitat throughout the midwestern United States. Red-backed salamanders are found in deciduous forests throughout their range. They live in fallen leaves as well as under rocks, logs, or in small burrows. When disturbed, they will crawl into tunnels or under leaves.

Like many other amphibians, salamanders can be hurt by high levels of acidity. Red-backed salamanders respond the same way to acidic surroundings as amphibian larvae do when exposed to acidic water, their sodium balance is disrupted. They are rarely found on soils with a pH of 3.7 or lower.

Breeding – Red-backed salamanders mate in the fall but the female does not lay her 3 to 14 eggs until the following spring. The eggs are laid in a cluster in naturally occurring cracks and crevices. Eggs can also be laid in or under rotting wood. The mother wraps her body around the egg cluster until they hatch. The baby salamanders come out of the eggs looking like small adults. Upon emerging from the egg, young salamanders are independent. Salamanders recognize their relatives through smell and although they are solitary, mothers will allow their young to stay in her foraging area. Female salamanders mate every other year.

Red-backed salamanders make up an important food source for a wide variety of snakes, birds, and mammals. They have the ability to drop all or part of their tail if under attack from a predator and can grow a new one afterwards. The tail that grows back is often lighter in color than the original tail.

Red-backed salamanders play an important biological role in both providing food for their predators as well as consuming large numbers of invertebrates.

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