Making a Difference...for Spotted Salamanders
Every spring, with the first warm evening rains, spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) begin a synchronous migration from hillside forests to the southern Honeoye Valley floor. They are seeking breeding pools, ponds, and shallow depressions in the extensive silver maple-ash swamp forest that occupies nearly 900 acres of the valley floor. Perhaps it is this abundance of potential breeding sites that contributes to the large migrating population observed every spring. As adults during the summer, spotted salamanders are seldom encountered, spending much of their time burrowing underground in the upland forests.
Spotted salamanders belong to a group known as the mole salamanders characterized by their plump, robust body and short, blunt head. Their stout body most often has a black dorsal surface with two irregular rows of yellow to orange spots. The ventral surface is slate gray. There are usually twelve costal grooves between the legs along each side. They can grow to ten inches and live for twenty years. No way are they a large charismatic wildlife species, but they are still attractive in their own way to me and my college students.
My college’s Muller Field Station is ideally located in the center of this migratory pathway but, unfortunately, so is County Road 36. To decrease the accidental road kills of spotted salamanders, we annually organize a campaign to physically move salamanders across the highway. This year, over the course of two nights, we moved an estimated 1100 spotted salamanders to safety on the opposite side of the road. We also moved just over 100 Jefferson’s salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), one red eft (Notophthalmus viridescens) and a few spring peepers (Hyla crucifer).
In addition to making a difference for the salamanders, this activity profoundly affects my students. Going beyond wildlife observation to actual wildlife conservation put into action, saving salamanders is an instantaneous reward and a memory that will continue to inspire and transform one’s conservation ethic in the future.
Photo credits: Bruce Gilman and Clinton Krager.
Bruce Gilman, PhD
Director of Muller Field Station and Professor of Environmental Conservation at Finger Lakes Community College
Bruce Gilman has taught in the Finger Lakes Community College Department of Environmental Conservation and Horticulture for 42 years. His teaching expertise includes aquatic ecology, field botany, glacial geology and environmental chemistry. Research activities include old growth forest dynamics, international conservation of globally rare alvar communities in the Great Lakes ecoregion, an ongoing compilation of all organisms living in the southern Honeoye Valley, and Finger Lakes water quality and macrophyte ecology. Bruce curates the Finger Lakes Herbarium, a collection of more than 13,000 individual plant specimen sheets containing plants representative of western New York, and is author of the Ontario County Flora. He also serves as the Director of FLCC’s Environmental Studies Program. Bruce received his Ph.D. in ecology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.