A beautiful vernal pool in Delaware County, Ohio. These wetland are quite alluring to salamander-seekers. I was fortunate in that Lauren Blyth, a died-in-the-wool salamander enthusiast, took me to see a couple of excellent and out-of-the-way vernal pools the other day. Our primary target? The odd, uncommon, and local Four-toed Salamander, Hemidactylium scutatum.
Four-toed Salamanders are probably the hardest of the vernal pool salamanders to find, and to successfully ferret them out requires some knowledge of their habitats and a lot of careful searching. They make their nests under moss on damp logs in the water; the moss-cloaked log above is a perfect example of this specialized breeding habitat.
Researchers seeking this species need to be very cautious in their approach. Tearing around and ripping the moss off the logs is NOT the way to go about hunting four-toes. You might find some, but will also probably cause the failure of the nest. Rather, it is best to carefully inspect logs that appear suitable and gently tug the moss to see if it is loose. If so, slowly and gently peel it back and see if anyone is home. Lauren is very good at this, and she located five nests, and we didn't spook any of the salamanders. After we documented their occurrence the moss was folded back over the nest and all was well.