Four-toed salamander with her eggs

This week’s theme seems to be salamanders, perhaps appropriate given that it is early springtime in one of the world’s hotspots for amphibian diversity. (An aside: when will TN sports teams figure this out? Titans, Predators, Kats, Tigers = yawn; Cave Salamanders, Spadefoot Toads, Barking Treefrogs, Mudpuppies = oh yeah, very memorable). I stopped by the Brakefield Rd ephemeral wetland this afternoon with the “Field Investigations in Biology” class. We found larvae of marbled salamanders, an adult mole salamander, and this four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) guarding her eggs.

Her eggs are visible on the underside of the log which we temporarily lifted up to take a look. She'll stay with them for about two months, defending them from predators and keeping fungi at bay. The young will hatch, then move to the adjacent pond for a month, before finally taking the woods for the rest of their lives.

Four-toed salamanders are relatively small, with mottled brown backs and a constriction at the base of their tails.

All four-toed salamanders have bold black spots on their white bellies -- very distinctive. (We flipped her back upright after this five second demonstration of her spotty belly.)

This species builds its nests at the edge of ephemeral pools, in sphagnum moss, and along stream banks. Because of its specialized habitat requirements, it is listed as “vulnerable” and “in need of management” in Tennessee.

I did not have my camera on me, so special thanks to Julia Galliher who took those photos with her phone. (iPhones are this week’s subplot on the blog, it seems)

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