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  • Susan Russell

Why is a Salamander Like a Canary?

Prepared by Judy Weidemann

On February 23, 2017, the Western New York Land Conservancy hosted a talk about The Salamanders' Big Night. Twan Leenders, a herpetologist, and Director of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History in Jamestown, New York was the featured speaker. Much was learned about salamanders and The Salamanders' Big Night.

Several members the Western York Land Conservancy celebrated The Big Night for Salamanders' on March 31, 2016. We were invited to Arcade, New York. The homeowners had the perfect set-up for The Big Night of egg laying and fertilization that occurs on just one night of the year. There was a woodsy area where salamanders live year round and two pools not far from that area. Conditions must be just right for The Big Night to occur. The temperature must be about 45 degrees. It should be a rainy night. On this night the adult salamanders travel from their woodsy home to a nearby body of water to lay their eggs and fertilize them. It happened that night and will happen again this year all over the area when the conditions are right.

Part of the purpose of Leender's talk was to point out to the attendees that there might be ideal spots for The Big Night near them. In the spring, vernal pools are formed from melting snow in cavities left in the earth from the glacier age. These vernal pools are often located in wooded areas where salamanders live and are ideal spots for the breeding ritual. The vernal pools are ideal also because they dry up later in the season so they are less likely to host predators. The survival rate from egg to adult salamander is very low, so the fewer predators the better. There is probably time to scout out a spot where The Big Night might take place in your area. It will be a magical night if you are successful in finding the right spot

The comparison of the lessening salamander population to the death of canaries entering unsafe coal mines is apt. Salamanders are a critical part of the food chain. Their death and absence from the food chain indicates trouble. For example in some instances night crawlers have taken the place of salamanders. They do not have the same nutritional value that salamanders do for animals who depend on salamanders for food. Not only are salamanders valuable in holding a place in the food chain, the most common salamander, the Red-back Slimy Salamander has amazing powers of regeneration. It can grow external body parts easily. This includes the tail and other appendages as well. Scientists are beginning to look into how this happens in the hopes of applying that information to research that benefits humans.

Good luck in scouting out a place to observe The Big Night!

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