Lately, it has been quite clear that we are not alone. A lot of species move about the country in search of the basics for survival (food, cover and if they’re in good health, a mate). Mallards and other waterfowl migrate across the continent each year to take advantage of the seasonal shift of resources that are made available north to south. Not only is this a cool animal movement to track (click here for Mallard Migration Network), but it is also a great experience to witness each fall during the hunting season (Duck Creek’s average duck harvested per hunter was 1.98 during this past waterfowl season). Another animal that has been making news because of its movement and surprise appearances in Missouri is the mountain lion (click here for confirmed sightings). We often forget that large animals are not confined to state or political boundaries and can travel hundreds of miles if local competition is stiff and resources are available elsewhere.
Both mountain lions and mallards have a sort of charisma or intrigue, which makes us stop and pay attention when they pass through our neck of the woods. However, there are other critters among us all the time that often don’t get much credit. Part of this is because they just aren’t visible most of the time. Despite their life in the shadows, they still play an important part in the vast food web and interactions within surroundings. These multiple interactions create the complexity that is important to ecosystem stability. Today I figured I’d touch on a group of animals that exist at Duck Creek, but are typically hiding in the shadows.
As late winter/early spring rains come around salamanders, yep, salamanders are on the move. They spend most of their lives under leaf litter, rocks, logs, and other little nooks and crannies we typically overlook. These small amphibians hang out here and munch on beetles, worms, grubs and other bugs that thrive in the world decaying on the forest floor.
During the cover of night, when the February and March rains come, they leave their shadowy lairs behind and make a break for a different kind of habitat. Small depressions in the woods fill-up with rainfall and create small temporary pools (vernal pools, is the technical term). Because they aren’t connected to permanent bodies of water, fish typically aren’t found in these locations. This is one of the important reasons why the salamanders choose these flooded pools. Their survival and their offspring’s success would be short-lived in more permanently flooded places, because they would be considered little more than a tasty-morsel with legs to multiple species of swamp fish.
Although their movements aren’t as far reaching as a duck or a big cat, these little critters will travel up to 245 meters (over two and a half football fields long), which is pretty good distance considering their size. At the right time and place, the leafy ground can almost seem to come alive with a mass of slimy salamanders on the move.
Duck Creek is home to 13 different species of salamanders. Five of these species fall into the Mole salamander family (Ambystomatidae is the latin name): Spotted salamander, Marbled salamander, Small-mouthed salamander, Mole salamander, and Eastern Tiger salamander. These are the species that are mostly often found within our bottomland hardwoods and adjacent hillsides. In their own right they can be quite charismatic and intriguing with various color patterns, different survival strategies, shadowy background and massive seasonal movements. So watch out, if you are out and about during a rainy night in the next month or two …you may not be alone.