Salamander Surprise

This morning we headed over to one of my favorite parks for a nature walk.  I almost didn’t take the camera because the trail we were going to hike doesn’t usually showcase many animals.

For the first half mile we didn’t see anything beyond the normal fast moving squirrels and chipmunks.  Then to our delight we spotted a tiny red salamander.

Red-spotted Newt on trail



Then two together.

Two Red-spotted newts on trail


Then another.

Red-spotted Newt compared to 8 year old hand


And another.

Red-spotted Newt headshot


Then we went down to the creek.  We found a cool rock, eroded from the flow of the stream.

Rock eroded by water

A large rock in the middle of the stream held a circular pool that reflected the trees above us.

Reflection of trees in rock pool

We turned over a rock next to the stream and found a tiny salamander.  Closer inspection revealed two salamanders.  They looked very young.  At first it was difficult to even see their legs.

Immature Northern Two-lined Salamander

The boys wanted to take the same path back to the car in hopes of finding more salamanders.  We did manage to find a couple more salamanders.

Alert Eastern Red-spotted Newt


Now that our eyes were looking for salamanders, we saw lots of small creatures.  I have no idea how we saw a black wooly bear on brown dirt.  We put it on a leaf for some contrast.

Catching a caterpillar


Did you know millipedes have stingers?

Millipede with stinger


We found a spider web under a bridge…

Spider in web under bridge



and one up in the trees.

Spiderweb in the woods



Chipmunks rarely sit still long enough for a photo, but I was lucky today.

Chipmunk @ South Chagrin


C saw a squirrel that blended so perfectly with the trees I thought I would never see it.

Camo squirrel eating nut


The red salamanders are Eastern Red-spotted Newts.  The ones by the creek with a stripe down each side?  Those are Northern Two-lined Salamanders.  Of course.

It was fun to research the salamanders, once we were home, to figure out which types they were.  The boys were very enthusiastic about finding NINE salamanders.  You just never know what you will find on a nature walk.  Some days exercise is the main thing we achieve on our  walk.  Other days we learn about species of plants or animals that are new to us.

Wishing you many delightful walks this summer!



Vernal Pool Unit Study

A local vernal pool

A local vernal pool

We continued our study of vernal pools this week.  We’ve had so much fun with this unit study and learned so much about these unique ecosystems. Vernal pools are filled with water part of the year but dry up for at least 2 months every year. Because these pools dry up completely fish can’t survive in them and that makes them the perfect breeding ground for many amphibians.

A little spring peeper singing at night.

A little spring peeper singing at night.

Spring peepers and wood frogs come to vernal pools in late winter/early spring to lay their eggs.

This is a spotted salamander we observed during a night hike.

This is a spotted salamander we observed during a night hike.

During the first warm rainy nights of spring, salamanders emerge from their underground burrows to make their way to these shallow pools and lay their eggs.

Fairy shrimp, caddisfly larvae, and water beetles also make their homes in these pools.

Salamander underwater during the day.

Salamander underwater during the day.

On one recent trip we were delighted to see a young salamander during the day. There was a lot of reflection on the water but if you look closely you can see the salamander.

Ribbon Snake

Some predators do of course enjoy visiting these pools. On a recent trip we came across a few ribbon snakes.

“Frog Heaven” by Doug Wechsler was a very helpful resource for this study and I am very grateful to our local naturalist for leading salamander walks on rainy spring nights.

What ecosystems have you explored near you?