Salamander Safari


A small group observing their find!

There were lots of eager faces at the trail head of Ledgedale Natural Area on Saturday for the Salamander Safari. Several families were patiently waiting to get their hands dirty as Pocono naturalist Rick Koval explained the etiquette and proper technique of salamander searching before we headed out into the forest.  We were instructed to “put the roof of the salamander’s home back” as we turned over rocks and logs in search of these slimy creatures. It’s best to place the object in the exact position you found it, and then place the salamander you’ve caught beside it so it can find its own way back home under the log or rock.

At first, there was some concern that it might be difficult to find any salamanders due to the cold nights we have had, but that worry quickly faded as we found two salamanders under the first rolled log not even 10 feet from the entrance of the trail! It was important at that point for Rick to fill us in on the differences between reptiles and amphibians: reptiles have dry, scaly skin and breathe through their lungs; while amphibians have wet, permeable skin that they breathe and absorb water through. Amphibians, including salamanders, are born with gills because their eggs are laid in water. As they develop, some salamanders lose their gills and breathe through their skin or lungs, while others retain their gills throughout their lifetime.

A rare find: Mountain Dusky female defending her eggs.

We found a lot of Redback Salamanders, Plethodon cinereus, and Mountain Dusky Salamanders, Desmognathus ochrophaeus, all of varying ages. Both species can live an amazing 20-30 years in a healthy ecosystem! These two species can sometimes look alike as they vary in color, but the Mountain Dusky has larger hind legs while the redbacks legs are all the same size. After a particularly good find Rick told us a very interesting fact: hypothetically, in any one square mile there is moremass in red backed salamanders than all other vertebrates (deer, bear, mice, etc.) COMBINED! I believe him too, because we sure did find a lot of salamanders out there! And as Rick pointed out, our fruitful findings are proof that the habitat at Ledgedale Natural Area is healthy because salamanders are good indicators of quality due to the fact that they breathe and take in water through their skin.

Holding a baby snapping turtle

At the end of our fun filled safari Rick brought out some other species of salamanders that we hadn’t found, such as the large Jefferson Salamander and a Spotted Salamander. For fun, he also brought along a baby snapping turtle, which every child got to hold if they wanted!

For more information on PPL’s upcoming free programs, visit the Calendar of Events here!

-Sarah Hall, PPL Wallenpaupack

Discover Red Efts on the Wallenpaupack Creek Trail

Red Efts are abundant on the edges of the Wallenpaupack Creek Trail

During our Hiking with Kids program on Thursday morning, we discovered a large population of  red efts on the edges of the Wallenpaupack Creek Trail at PPL’s Lake Wallenpaupack Environmental Preserve.  The kids screamed with excitement as they turned over leaves and found more than 30 efts crawling on the forest floor.

Red efts are the larval stage of Red-spotted Newts.  The newly hatched salamander eggs have gills and small forelegs.  Three months later, forelegs and hindlegs develop and the efts begin their one to three year terrestrial existence.  The eft feeds on small insects and slugs while it awaits its transformation to the aquatic newt stage.
Information from Pennsylvania Amphibians and Reptiles by Larry Shaffer.