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Public’s Help Sought to Research Salamander Population Decline

April 22, 2014
By Tanya Pulfer and Dick Mathison
Kingston Herald

Often referred to as “canaries in the coal mine”, salamanders are excellent indicators of ecological health. In Ontario, we are seeing 50 percent declines in the ranges of all but two species.

Scientists are not sure what is causing this massive decline. Is it habitat loss, pollution, a combination of these factors, or something else entirely?

Or is it due to under-reporting?

Last spring, when the nights started to warm up, we anxiously waited for it, then it came — the first warm rain of the season. It was time for some exploration.

I grabbed my five-year-old twin nieces and off we went on our annual “first signs of spring” adventure. We examine emerging buds on trees and scoured the forest floor for signs of green. We even saw a robin. It was lovely. But the best was yet to come.

We reached a mature forest, which is a great place to see salamanders on-the-move. They emerge early in the spring, often while there is still snow on the ground. We knew we were in the right place to look for our favorite amphibians but we also knew we had to be careful and patient, and that even then, spotting a salamander was not a sure-thing.

Slowly and quietly we moved searched the leaf litter and vernal (spring-time-only) pools for movement. “We see one!” Cassandra and Katrina uttered at the same time. I came close to see a shiny black salamander with yellow spots – a spotted salamander.

We watched him for a minute or so, took a photo and then submitted our sighting to the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas.

By reporting your sightings to the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas, you can contribute to the study and protection of salamanders and other amphibians and reptiles.

Many areas of Ontario are experiencing the first warm rains of spring. This means that salamanders are on the move.

If you would like to see one in action, head to your local mature woodlot. Be sure to first download the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas app to help you identify and report species.

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