“Newts, Jeeves. Mr. Fink-Nottle has a strong newt complex. You must have heard of newts. Those little sort of lizard things that charge about in ponds.” –P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves.
So far, I have written posts on garden snakes, turtles, frogs, and toads, so I still need to do lizards and salamanders for full herpetological coverage. One Forest Fragment just wrote about salamanders, inspiring me to do the same.
The southeastern United States harbors more salamander species than anywhere else in the world, but most of that diversity is found in the southern Appalachians. The piedmont area, where I live, is relatively depauperate, and of the roughly fifty salamander species native to North Carolina, I have found only four on our property.
Eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)
Eastern newts have a fairly complex life cycle. They begin as aquatic larvae with external gills, but after growing legs they leave the water and typically spend several years as a non-breeding terrestrial “red eft” (see photo above). Eventually, an eft’s orange or red color fades to olive green (though still with bright red spots), and it returns to the water as a breeding adult newt. To add to this complexity, some adults return to the land when the breeding season is finished, while others stay in the water. Adopting the opposite strategy, newts in some southeastern localities skip the eft stage and remain in the water their entire lives .
I see red efts in the garden with some regularity, usually after rain, but I have not found any adult newts in the nearby creek or woodland pools. Presumably there must be a breeding pond somewhere nearby, but red efts can wander a considerable distance (miles?) during their years as a terrestrial salamander.
Marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum)
I suspect that marbled salamanders are the most common salamander species in the garden and surrounding woods. In common with other mole salamander species, marbled salamanders spend most of their time underground, but I have seen more individuals of this species than all the other salamanders combined.
Across the lane from our property, the local creek forms a muddy oxbow that holds water even when the creek stops flowing in late summer. This pond is full of dead leaves and live Ambystoma larvae. Most are probably larval marbled salamanders, but some may be offspring of the next species.
Spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)
I have only found one spotted salamander since we moved to this location eleven years ago. It was under a rotten log in the woods adjacent to the garden proper–the same log, in fact, that previously harbored the two marbled salamanders shown above. Since spotted salamanders, like their marbled cousins, spend most of their lives underground, they may be more common than it would appear.
Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera)
Two-lined salamanders and the related three-lined salamanders (Eurycea guttolineata) are common under rocks in the creek bed, but for some reason, this one relocated to my compost bin. I suppose that the bin provides a moist, dark habitat full of small invertebrate prey, but to reach it the salamander had to navigate several hundred feet of dry pine woods–an impressive journey for a lungless salamander that relies on keeping its skin moist to breathe.
1. Mitchell, J., and Gibbons, W. (2010). Salamanders of the Southeast. University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA.