The Heart of New England
Have You Spotted
the Spotted Salamander
in Your Backyard?

By Erin Crowley

Have you met any amphibians living in your back yard?

The spotted salamander might be thriving near your house (The spotted
salamander is in fact, present throughout  New England...and can be found
in South-central Ontario to Nova Scotia, south to Georgia and in eastern

The spotted salamander is distinctive-looking:  long (4 to 7 inches) dark
brown/black body, decorated with two irregular rows of vivid yellow
spots, is distinctive.  But it’s possible you may not notice your guest.  

For about 95% of the year, these shy amphibians conceal themselves under
logs, leaves, and rocks, or in burrows and tunnels made by other animals.
At night they emerge to feast on insects and other invertebrates.

The rest of the time they spend in vernal pools elsewhere in your
neighborhood. While spotted salamanders may visit vernal pools for only a
handful of days each year, these special wetlands are crucial to the
amphibians’ life cycle.

Vernal pools are not well understood, although they are common in
northern New England. It would be easy to pass by one of these giant
forested puddles without even recognizing it as a wetland. Simply stated, a
vernal pool is a temporary, isolated pool of water. These pools typically fill
in between the winter and spring and dry up in the late summer, making
fish survival impossible. This lack of fish makes vernal pools essential to
the spotted salamander life cycle. Amphibian eggs and larvae would make
a very tasty treat for hungry fish. As a result, spotted salamanders have
come to rely on vernal pools for mating and laying eggs.

Some moist night between mid-March and the end of April, these
amphibians migrate in mass to their local vernal pool. Once there, the
congress of salamanders will participate in a nuptial dance so vigorous,
that the water around them may appear to boil. A few days later, the
females will lay several masses of eggs, each with 25 to 250 eggs. Having
done their part, the adults return to their forested upland hideouts—the
next generation must fend for themselves.

Within a few weeks the larvae begin to emerge from their eggs. They look
something like dull, yellow-green speckled tadpoles, with long feathery
gills protruding from their heads. They spend the better part of the spring
and summer growing into their legs, feasting on a bounty of aquatic insects
in the vernal pools.

By the time the pool dries up, they are ready to use lungs rather than gills.
They set out to find a new home, usually within a few hundred feet of the
now empty vernal pool. Spotted salamanders are particularly sensitive to
development. Destruction of vernal pools will interfere with breeding,
while destruction of forests within a half-mile radius of the pools will
destroy adult habitat. Roads are particularly dangerous.

Within the northeastern United States, several states have already named
the spotted salamander a Species of Special Concern. To do your part to
protect salamanders, be aware of the vernal pools in your neighborhood
and help protect them from development.

For information and educational resources on vernal pools and the
amphibians that rely on them, check out  and  

About the author:
Erin Crowley is an Americorps volunteer at the Maine Department of
Environmental Protection.
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