The song "Sway", first made popular by Dean Martin, would choreograph well with the ritual water dance of spotted salamanders. Shortly after Valentine's Day, on the first warm rains of late winter/early spring, hundreds will gather in ponds and sway and swim with a marimba type rhythm.
The sway of spotted salamanders is a perfect ritual dance for Valentine's Day. It can look like a flash mob in Missouri ponds as they all gather around the same time. Herpetologist's call it a "Big Night".
According to MDC Herpetologist, Jeff Briggler, during the first warm rains from February into March, spotted salamanders emerge from their woodland burrows and head to a pond for mating. Males come out first and females arrive later. If you're out near a pond at this time, you may first hear a small rustle in the wet leaves. Briggler says, "If you shine a flashlight on the pond, you may see hundreds of spotted salamanders swimming and dancing in the water."
Spotted salamanders spend most of their time on land in the forest -- on the ground and under leaves -- and are rarely seen. They only breed in water. After courtship and laying eggs, they move back out to the woodlands where little is known of their lives. They will come back to the same pond the next year. The best chance to see them is during this late winter water dance.
Most of the young do not survive their time in the pond. But if they make it through transformation and out of the pond, they can live as long as 20 years.
Spotted salamanders have yellow and orange spots that cover them from head to tail. Their legs are large and strong with four or five toes.
Watch several spotted salamanders swimming and swaying in the video below by Saunders Drukker.
Six families of salamanders are represented in Missouri:
Missouri is home to nearly 50 species and subspecies of salamanders. Discover more about them with MDC's Field Guide.