Saturday, June 14, 2014


If you asked me what my favorite group of animals was in elementary school I would have said salamanders. I think I've always wanted to focus on lizards, but they weren't around while salamanders were locally abundant and served as a superficial substitute. So I settled, but I was still the annoying kid who would harp on the differences if anyone were to generalize these two fundamentally different organisms. One key difference can barely be seen in the picture below:

Somewhere between the artsy fartsy-ness is a larval salamander in the genus Ambystoma

If you squint really hard there's an alien like creature floating towards the surface in the above picture. It has tiny toothpicks for hindlimbs and feathery plumes projecting from the back of its head to let it breath underwater. This may sound strange, but if you've ever played Pokemon this is the inspiration for Wooper and Mudkip. Except the design for Wooper is wrong because no salamander develops its legs before its arms. That's what frogs do. If you haven't played Pokemon and have no idea what I am talking about then I'm afraid there is nothing that can be done at this point (see hyperlinks).

Another reason why salamanders trump frogs in my unjust biased opinion is that all salamanders are born with a taste for blood. You'll never find a baby salamander being a wimp and scraping off some algae like some (but not all!) tadpoles. It's a general rule (in Jon's Guide to Cool Animals) that carnivorous animals are more interesting than herbivorous ones. Watching your pet lizard chase crickets is a lot more exciting than watching your pet tortoise chase a head of lettuce.

Forgot to wipe his mouth.
What are you looking at? You should be reading!

I could go on about the biology of salamanders for days, so I will. The next set of pictures illustrates the interesting life cycle of the interesting eastern newt. After the aquatic gilled Pokemon stage, this salamander goes onto land for two to seven years as a brightly colored " red eft" before finally going back to the water as an adult.

An ewt
Devoted subscribers may notice I already used the bottom picture before.
Good thing I don't have any of those!

Efts are extremely abundant on the forest floor after rains and it can be hard to walk without squashing one every few steps. It's quite unusual to see a salamander strutting about so boldly in broad day light as most of them are secretive nocturnal creatures, but the efts are toxic and if you eat them you will die. Actually, I'm not sure if a human could be killed by eastern newt toxins, but their cousins in California are extremely toxic having killed a human (upon ingestion). Despite the potential harm to people, eastern newts are conducive for studies of limb and eye regeneration therefore of use to humans; which is really the point of biodiversity anyway.

Eastern newts are so cool because aquatic amphibians are cooler than terrestrial ones (see Jon's Totally Unbiased Guide to Cool Animals). Unfortunately the next salamander is not aquatic. It even went so far as to pop out miniature adults without gills severing its dependence on freestanding water although it still needs to live in moist environments because it doesn't have lungs and breathes through its skin. Imagine that.

A very sticky salamander.
You can barely see the lungs on this guy. 

So without further ado we have the slimy salamander AKA Plethodon glutinosus although sticky salamander is a more fitting name. It secretes a very sticky mucus upon being picked up by curious herpetologists. I've actually only heard about this species in the field guides of yore so I cried tears of happiness upon finding one under a rotting log. Actually I cried tears of sadness because the first one was extremely skittish and disappeared before I could get a good picture so I cursed the heavens and flipped everything in sight until finding another. 

Most woodland salamanders could easily be mistaken for a worm, but that's not the case for ye olde slimy sally-mander. This was a huge skink-sized beast of around six inches that could easily eat lesser manders for breakfast. One of these smaller salamanders is the omnipresent redbacked salamander whose accumulated biomass in a forest can be heavier than deer according to some studies which I do not have a picture of yet. This is a shame as this species was the first amphibian I ever saw. 

Thus ends Taxon Week as the weather is nice again and I won't be sitting on my computer all day. We're coming up on 3000 views which is just 11,239,232 views short of the average viral video, an important milestone nonetheless. To celebrate I ask you, the readers, to ask me whatever it is you wanted to know about this mysterious man of mystery who writes such inane posts. Comment below or send a letter to my estate. 

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