Look for signs of these species on your next hike.
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This month's Niagara Escarpment species:
Blue Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale)
Photo: : B.Popelier (2013)
Did You Know?
Are nocturnal and most active on dark, rainy nights.
They often use their tail as a distraction to predators.
They can exude a foul tasting slime that is very disturbing to anything that takes a bite of them.
Habitat - Under rocks and logs on the forest floor in moist deciduous forests near areas with ponds or vernal pools.
Size - Average 8-14 cm in length but can reach up to 16 cm.
Range - Most of Ontario up to James Bay and extending west into southern Manitoba and east to Nova Scotia and Labrador. Found in the Northeastern United States as far south as Virginia.
Status - S5, Secure
They have a fairly wide head with black eyes. The body colour is black or dark gray and they have bluish-white spots scattered along the entire length of their body. The underbelly is lighter in colour. They have 4 toes on the front feet and 5 toes on the back feet.
Photo: Wikipedia-IronChris-Own work
Breeding occurs in the early spring in woodland ponds or swamps. Females can lay up to 200 eggs and attach them to underwater vegetation. The eggs hatch in three to four weeks and the larvae go through a transformation into adult salamanders by midsummer.
They are quite common in their range but still difficult to find. Adults spend most of their day hiding underground or beneath rocks and logs. Juveniles hide out under leaf litter at the bottom of vernal pools. They only venture out from their hiding spots at night to hunt for worms, spiders, insects, and slugs or to breed.
These salamanders can breed with Jefferson salamanders creating hybrids which makes it very difficult to tell the difference between the two species; in fact only a DNA test will determine which is which. The exact relationship between the breeding of Jefferson salamanders and Blue Spotted Salamanders is quite complicated and is still undergoing study by biologists.
Blue Spotted Salamanders on the Niagara Escarpment
Although a common species in Ontario and along the Escarpment, they are rarely seen due to their nocturnal habits and underground habitat. An early Spring hike through a warming forest may provide a surprise encounter with a Blue Spotted Salamander as it slowly emerges from its winter hibernation lair. Keep your eyes peeled on the ground as you walk and you may spot one amongst the leaf litter.
The Bruce Trail Conservancy is continually acquiring and protecting forests along the Niagara Escarpment, including large tracts of relatively undisturbed areas with vernal pools which are important breeding grounds for this and several other species of woodland amphibians.