Chapman State Park hosts first Salamander Safari
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you must be aware that the Warren area is crawling with fascinating critters and creatures. Some people took time out from traditional Memorial Day activities to find some of those creatures — the ones that often prefer living under a rock.
Staff at Chapman State Park held the first Salamander Safari of the season on Monday. A group of people of all ages spent about an hour combing the area in and around Penny Run searching for the quick and slippery little forest-dwellers.
Jennifer Moore, environmental education specialist at Chapman, gave the group a few hints and instructions prior to the hunt for salamanders. “Make sure you wet your hands before you hold a salamander,” Moore said. “They breathe through their skin.”
Moore added that some salamanders might be found in the water but the red-backed variety is typically found away from the water in areas that are moist and dark.
As the group set out, turning over logs and leaf piles, an occasional squeal rang out. The squeals were often followed by several minutes of “oops, almost had him” as the salamanders quickly slithered away. Most of the youngest hunters got the chance to hold one for a few minutes and return it to where it came from.
The majority of those captured were dark in color. Nobody found one with bright orange coloring like the one Moore had a photo of. The red-backed salamander, for reasons unknown, didn’t make an appearance on Monday.
According to information from the University of Michigan, red-backed salamanders have two color phases. In the “redback” phase they have a gray or black body with a straight-edged red or orange stripe down the back, extending from the neck to the tail. When they are in the “leadback” phase they lack the red stripe, and have a purely black or grey back instead. Their bellies are a mottled white and gray in both phases, creating a salt and pepper pattern. 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.
One of the questions posed to Moore pertained to the difference between salamanders and newts. “All newts are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts,” Moore said.
The labels of newt and salamander are often used interchangeably. Some people think these two distinct amphibians are the same animal. There are distinctions between the two.
As adults, newts live a semi-aquatic to aquatic life, while adult salamanders live a mostly terrestrial life except for when they’re breeding and laying eggs. Most newts have webbed feet and a paddle-like tail, which make it easier to live in the water. Salamanders typically have longer and more rounded tails with well-developed toes for digging in soil.
Salamander Safaris are typically held during holiday weekends, according to Moore. The next one has not been scheduled yet but Moore said there will be another one some time near July 4th.