Most of these low-slung amphibians prefer to haunt wet, mucky soil under logs, rocks and other such niches. Even though many species can be surprisingly common, it takes an expert to find them.
One of the rarest and most furtive Ohio species is the green salamander (Aneides aeneus). Listed as endangered in Ohio, this salamander is known from a handful of rocky outcrops along the Ohio River. The best populations are found within the sprawling Edge of Appalachia Preserve in Adams County, owned by the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.
Years ago, I saw my only green salamander in Adams County. It was a daylight discovery deep in a crevice. Attempts to tease the wee beast out with a stick met with failure, and just pushed it deeper into its dwelling.
This southern species becomes more common to our south, and I recently had the opportunity to make a much better acquaintance with the green salamander.
As I’ve done for the past 13 years, I was leading trips as part of the New River Birding & Nature Festival. The event takes place around the New River in southern West Virginia, a region noted for its extraordinary biodiversity.
This year, festival organizers launched a new field trip with an amphibious theme. They tapped the Mountaineer State’s leading salamander authority, Tom Pauley of the department of biological sciences at Marshall University, to lead the expedition. At 77, Pauley remains active and is an intrepid field man.
I wasn’t on the Pauley expedition, but eagerly sought an accounting upon the expedition’s return. The group found 15 species of amphibians, including two green salamanders. Attendees provided me the location of the cliff, and that night I headed out salamander hunting.
My impromptu posse consisted of Suleka Deevi,
Paul Shaw and Tom Stephenson. None had ever seen a green salamander, and were up for the nocturnal challenge.
Green salamanders emerge under cover of darkness to hunt along the cliff faces. Our evening could not have offered better conditions. Recent rains left a veneer of moisture on the rocks — humidity was high, and temperatures were in the 60s.
We fanned out along the cliff face, scanning the rocks with our flashlights. Before long, I spotted a green salamander emerging from its fissure. Before the night was done, we had found four of the beasts. They blended well with the stone, courtesy of irregular green blotches that mimic lichen-dappled rocks.
It was interesting to watch the salamanders hunt. When a small fly or other insect entered one’s hunting sphere, the salamander would quickly move its way. With a rapid snakelike strike, it would lunge and snap up the victim.
Ohio’s green salamander populations are sparse, live in a highly specialized habitat, and occur at the northern reaches of the range. Fortunately, the best sites are owned by the Nature Conservancy and that’s a good landlord to have if you are an endangered salamander.
Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at www.jimmccormac.blogspot.com.