Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Searching for New Locations of the Green Salamander

One of the rarest, if not the rarest amphibian in Ohio is the green salamander (Aneides aeneus).  This state endangered species is found in 3 Ohio Counties: Adams, Scioto and Lawrence.  But its range within these counties is very scarce, and in Scioto and Lawrence counties, the population is limited to just a few locations.  In Adams County, where the Edge of Appalachia Preserve lies, there are at least 22 known locations of the green salamander.   I am qualifying locations as stretches of dolostone cliffs that are separated by soil where the exposed rock ends.  Why stop where the exposed rock ends?  The green salamander is a rock specialist, spending the majority of its life in the cracks and tight spots of cliffs.  It even lays its eggs in the cliffs, gluing them to the top of a crack's ceiling where the female stays with the eggs until well after hatching.  Since this is not in an aquatic habitat, which is where most other amphibians lay eggs, the larva go through their “tadpole” stage within the egg instead of in water.  With this said, these salamanders do leave the cliffs to forage for food.  But of the hundreds of times I’ve seen them, I can count on one hand the number of times they were not on cliffs. 
                                                                                        Green Salamander (Aneides aeneus).

On the preserve, we are searching for new locations of green salamander within its range.  On October 20, 2015, Rich McCarty of The Nature Conservancy and I were surveying a set of cliffs on the preserve that, to my knowledge, have never been searched for the elusive greens.  The habitat seemed right, the cliff was well within its known range, the temperature was 70F, so we knew the salamanders should be there.  The hunt was on.  After 20 minutes of searching roughly 40 yards of cliff, we found 2 adult green salamanders.  A new location had been added.
                                                           Green salamander found in a new location.  Photo by Rich McCarty

On November 18, 2015 it was another unseasonable 70F day, so I decided to pick another location lacking of green salamander data.  Accompanied by a student volunteer from Shawnee State University, Maria Frazier, we hiked to search the cracks of this unexplored cliff system.  This location had about 70 yards of exposed rock which, on a late November day was turning up no amphibians.  After an hour of searching we found a Northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus) tucked way back in the crack of a thin split rock.  At least it was a salamander, and one Maria had not seen before.  We were just about to accept defeat for the day when, in the last 5 yards of rock, a green salamander was found.  Stretching along a thin yet shallow crack, this 2.5 inch individual was exposed enough to see the entire body.  Not even 10 more inches to this critters right was another salamander.  This salamander's head was exposed and from the looks of it, it was a very large adult.  So 2 green salamanders were in this new location.  I would assume, that on a hot summer evening, it would be pretty easy to find many more individuals.
                                                 Green salamanders hide in tight cracks.  Can you see the salamander's face?
                                                                      Searching for green salamanders in dolostone cliffs.

The ability to hide in the tightest of cracks makes hunting this salamander a bit difficult.  But with a little hard work and a lot of luck, finding new locations is possible.  Of course, being an endangered species, these new locations are not posted to the public.  But keeping record of this rare species' habits, habitats and locations will help Ohio herpetologists understand more on its abundance and cause for protection.  Undoubtedly, more locations will soon be added as the preserve continues to grow in size and this growth includes numerous amounts of cliff.

For more information about green salamanders, check out Amphibians of Ohio, 2013 from Ohio Biological Survey’s website here.  This book contains an enormous amount of information about all of Ohio’s amphibians.      

Posted by: Mark Zloba