Intermittent downpours are not ideal weather for outdoor classes, unless your topic for the day is: salamanders!
So a hardy (and uncomplaining — YSR!) group of cyclists headed out in the rain, destination Shakerag Hollow. This is the first of many days of salamandering for my Advanced Ecology and Biodiversity class. We’ll be documenting the local fauna and comparing communities among streams with varying degrees of sedimentation.
The focal stream for the day yielded many Spotted Dusky Salamanders, Desmognathus conanti. These stocky animals are fast movers: you need quick hands to catch them. They are about five inches long and hide under rocks, emerging at night and in downpours to feed on insects and other small prey.
In addition to salamanders, we found several crayfish, including this one, expertly captured and held by my colleague David Johnson, that has two babies attached to the underside of its tail. The females usually carry eggs in this position, but youngsters generally swim off on their own.
The woods were also full of fungi, including this stinkhorn……and a spectacular growth of what I think is “chicken-of-the-woods,” a species that is edible (to some; for others it causes considerable distress). This fungus was visible from about fifty meters away. It glowed through the mist of the forest. No, it burned. But salamander-like, we survived the fire.