MANY SEEPAGE SALAMANDERS HAVE YOU SEEN THIS YEAR?
November 23, 2008
and I did not intentionally pick the coldest day so far this fall to go
search for salamanders in soggy seeps, but that was the day we went. Steve
is the state herpetologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural
Resources. As amphibians, salamanders are a group of creatures herpetologists
study. A seep is a wetland habitat created by groundwater slowly flowing
out at the base of a steep bluff.
weather, a bit above freezing, did not bother the salamanders. When we
began to find the salamanders, the cold no longer bothered us either.
Steve's purpose in visiting seep habitats was to establish their location,
develop an inventory of species that depend on them, and eventually help
protect these unusual and little-known habitats and their inhabitants.
What Steve and I would call a "good seep" is one with year-round
muck, visible crawfish mounds, and sphagnum moss margining some of the
slightly elevated areas. Little rivulets less than a foot wide and only
a few inches deep flow away from the bluff. Accumulations sometimes result
in small streams that lead to larger ones. A seep is one of the most serene
habitats imaginable, especially on a brisk autumn day. Finding more than
30 salamanders of five species made our day.
president of the Columbia Audubon Society, accompanied us. He took water
samples while Steve and I looked for salamanders. Dan noted that one bluff
we descended to reach a seep was about 40 feet high, thus creating a high,
thick bit of terrain through which rain water could percolate. Many of
the seeps have stayed wet through recent droughts, indicating that water
passing from the high ground above to the base of the bluff below may
take months, possibly years.
inhabited by a special group of amphibians, the lungless salamanders.
Like other vertebrate animals, salamanders breathe by taking in oxygen.
They do so primarily through their skin as well as through tissues in
the mouth. To do so efficiently, they must stay cool and moist. The water
temperature in a seep is cool and stays pretty much the same year-round.
The salamanders stay in the mud, wet ground vegetation, or under the soggy
logs that are present.
salamanders in seeps is exhilarating. Imagine turning over a log and finding
four long, slender yellow salamanders with black stripes. Then turn over
the next log to find a bright red salamander that looks like a small hotdog
with black spots and a pink belly. We found more than a dozen of each.
We also found several dusky salamanders, which are dark gray, a bright
yellow two-lined salamander, and one known as the mud salamander. Mud
salamanders sometimes have the red-leopard appearance of a red salamander;
the two can be distinguished because the latter has yellow irises. The
mud salamander has brown ones. Staring down a salamander is not that hard
to do, so Steve and I were able to identify the ones we caught.
took notes on each animal, we released them where we had caught them.
This was especially important for one big female red salamander. Red salamanders
lay their eggs in the fall under a log or rock, attaching the eggs so
that they adhere to the underside. Meanwhile, the female hollows out a
little pool beneath the eggs and stays until they hatch. Exactly what
the mother protects the eggs from remains a mystery. Parental care exhibited
by animals is fascinating, and finding a nest-guarding red salamander
was a treat for Steve and me.
stewardship of our natural habitats, including such unique habitats as
seeps, is critical. Fortunately, the seeps we visited are in no immediate
danger of disappearing. Two are protected because they are on land owned
by a conservation society. The other two are also well protected by being
on a large privately owned plantation. Both give the wetland areas known
as seeps the full protection they need from the assaults suffered by many
other natural areas across the country. Let's hope they stay that way
so that others can have the opportunity to visit pristine seeps with salamanders
you have an environmental question or comment, email