Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sunning Salamander

It is late November, and most days have brought the cold air of winter, light snow fall, and the smell of wood fires, of decaying leaves, of fall. But today feels marvelously closer to spring; snow has melted off the trails, and there is a freshness in the air that we usually associate with springtime. It is sunny and 64 degrees here in Billings today!

We are not the only creatures fooled by this late November warm spell. Today we found a Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigtinum) sunning itself by the nursery here at the Center. In the winter, salamanders hibernate deep underground, below the frost line. In spring, they will emerge and return to their ancestral breeding grounds, usually a pond, glacial pothole, or stock reservoir. Some tiger salamanders will become sexually mature without metamorphosing out of the larval, aquatic form, to the terrestrial adult form. These individuals are called paedomorphs. They breath underwater with three pairs of external gills.

Tiger salamanders are nocturnal, spending the daylight hours underground in burrows or under logs and rocks. At night they hunt for crustaceans such as snails and small crayfish. Some larval forms of the tiger salamander are cannibalistic and feed on other larvae of their species, which can account for up to 80% of their diet!

We felt lucky to watch the salamander amble along the ground in the sunshine today. He provided a good reason to get outside, to marvel at the natural world, and to give thanks for it all.

Posted by Heather Ristow, Education Director

Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D.L. Flath, Eds. (2004) Amphibians and Reptiles of Montana. Mountain Press Publishing Company: Missoula, MT.

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