Hunting Salamanders at Glen Alton with my Peeps

I am not cool enough to use the word “peeps”.

I know this because I worry about the grammar and spelling of this slang word for “people”.  Still, I’m going to use it anyway, brazenly, because when I hang with my peeps they make me feel cool enough.

My peeps are not my family.  I love hanging with my family, but it’s a whole different wonderful feeling.  My peeps are my fellow Virgnia Master Naturalists.  (New River Valley Chapter, of course.)  These are the nicest, most knowledgeable-but-not-haughty-about-it, most enthusiastic nature nerds you’d ever want to meet.  My peeps.

I took the certification course in 2012-2013, and have kept up my certification with the required 40 hours of volunteer service (I do mine at the local nature center) and eight hours of continuing education every year.

As a part of that continuing education, I helped take the new trainees on their amphibians field trip to Glen Alton Farm.  There was a new teacher who taught us about and helped us search for salamanders in the woods just outside of the farm.

Another view from the main house.  The pond that you see is where we caught the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens).

Another view from the main house. The pond that you see is where we caught the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens).

I had searched these same woods for salamanders when I trained, but that field trip was in the spring, and this one was in late October.  My main educational take-away was this:  in the spring you can find a wide variety of salamanders hiding under logs on the forest floor (slimeys and duskies and red-backeds and more); after it’s gotten cold in the autumn, the only species hardy enough to still be found are the red-backeds.  All of the others have wisely burrowed into nooks and crannies in the soil to sleep off the winter.  This is a good move for a tasty morsel such as a salamander; the red-backeds we found on that 34 degree morning were ridiculously easy to catch.  If you could find one under whatever log you’d rolled over to check, the salamander was so cold (they’re ectotherms, so their body is the temperature of the surrounding environment) that it barely moved and you could just reach down and gingerly pick it up.  In spring’s warmer weather, they’re quick as lightning, diving under leaf litter and racing in a new direction in a flash.

Two red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) that we captured, sitting quite still in a plastic storage container, with my hand beneath to provide a solid background.  Under a log, these little guys look at first like a wriggling red  worm.

Two red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) that we captured, sitting quite still in a plastic storage container, with my hand beneath to provide a solid background. Under a log, these little guys look at first like a wriggling red worm.

So that explains another difference in the two salamander hunts – in spring we found a variety of species, but were only able to catch about a half-dozen of the quick little suckers.  In fall, we only found red-backeds, but were able to catch and observe about 25 of them.

This is the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) that our teacher was able to pluck out of the farm's pond.  Newts don't sleep for the winter because ponds only freezes on top; they're still swimming around (albeit slowly) and probably not thinking about how grateful they should be that ice floats.

This is the Eastern Newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) that our teacher was able to pluck out of the farm’s pond. Newts don’t sleep for the winter because ponds only freezes on top; they’re still swimming around (albeit slowly) and probably not thinking about how grateful they should be that ice floats.

If you haven’t caught a salamander yet, I highly recommend you go on a hunt next spring or summer.  Salamanders are so cool (both literally and figuratively) – check out these salamander facts:

  • Salamanders are amphibians, not reptiles.  Most are born from eggs in laid in fresh water and have gills when they’re young.  They lose the gills as they mature and go ashore to live the rest of their lives on land.  (Exceptions:  the Eastern Newt, which lives on land as a Red Eft for a short period, then returns to the water as an adult and the Hellbender, which is completely aquatic.)
  • Their skin is moist and must stay moist so that they can breathe through it; most species have no lungs.  (Exception:  the family of mole salamanders, which have lungs.)
  • Salamanders are adorably small, usually less than ten inches from tip of their blunt little noses to end of their tails, and the tail may make up more than half of that length.  (Exception:  the Hellbender, which can grow up to 16 inches.)
  • They have cute faces, with huge eyes that help them hunt for insects and arthropods in the low light of the forest floor’s leaf litter and decaying logs.
  • Their mouths are too small to worry about a bite.
  • They must be handled gently and placed back under the leaf litter after a few minutes so their skin doesn’t dry out.

After our salamanders were placed back under their logs and tucked in for the winter (any log rolled over must always be put back, or you’ve just destroyed a habitat), we continued our walk down the trail, chatting about nature and life and all manner of good things on a bright and crisp fall morning.

Getting to walk this trail with like-minded people who also stop every few yards to look at something interesting was just plain awesome.

Getting to walk this trail with like-minded people who also stop every few yards to look at something interesting was just plain awesome.

Time with my nature peeps is the best.

The trail continues beyond this beautiful old farm building, but we nature nerds walk so slow that we had to turn around and head back toward our cars at this point.  Someday, though, I'll bring my family peeps and we'll keep on walking.

The trail continues beyond this beautiful old farm building, but we nature nerds walk so slow that we had to turn around and head back toward our cars at this point. Someday, though, I’ll bring my family peeps and we’ll keep on walking.

Advertisements

One thought on “Hunting Salamanders at Glen Alton with my Peeps

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s