Salamanders

It looks like a lizard and feels like a frog

Perhaps no other definition sums up a salamander quite so well. In fact, the word salamander comes from a Greek word meaning "lizard-like animal."

However, salamanders lack a number of features that lizards possess:

  • scales on their bodies
  • claws on their feet
  • ear-openings

Alberta's "mole salamanders"

although there are four families of salamanders native to Canada, only one family (and in fact, one genus) is present in Alberta, the Ambystomatidae, or mole salamanders.

The nickname "mole salamanders" applies because these salamanders are seldom seen above ground except during the breeding season when they migrate to breeding ponds.

In Alberta, there are two species of these salamanders:

  • long-toed salamander
  • tiger salamander

Salamander traits

  • Salamanders are relatively large amphibians with long tails.
  • Unlike frogs and toads, they do not vocalize, which is another reason they are rarely seen.
  • Some salamanders never leave the aquatic stage, but still become mature adults. This phenomenon, called neoteny, may be an adaptation to particularly dry environments as sometimes found on the prairies. Neoteny sometimes occurs in the tiger salamander.

Population monitoring: egg masses and larvae

Identifying eggs and larvae of amphibians can be quite challenging.

Salamander eggs are generally laid individually, rather than in strings or clumps. However, because eggs can quickly become covered with silt, estimating reproductive success through counting eggs is very difficult.

Once eggs hatch, in early to late May, larvae can be observed. Salamander larvae are relatively easy to identify because of their conspicuous external gills.

Larvae can be counted at a convenient time at night during July. The best method for counting salamander larvae is to slowly wade through the water, shining a bright light on the surface. A bright light makes the larvae easier to see than trying to count them during the day.

Young-of-the-Year

Census Because newly transformed salamanders often quickly disperse from the breeding pond, it is unlikely that a young-of-the-year census would be worthwhile and therefore, for salamanders at least, monitoring efforts should be concentrated on the larval stage.

 

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Posted: Oct 15, 2009