Forget the groundhog: Salamanders signal spring

Early in my career, I was asked if I could help with a study being done by a Heidelberg College student concerning Jefferson salamanders. Without much thought, I said that I’d do it.
I should have given it at least a little thought, since I had no idea what a Jefferson salamander looked like or where I might find one. After all, it was February and any self-respecting amphibian ought to be hibernating and dreaming of warmer weather.
It wasn’t long before that student became my teacher, and I never tried to pretend otherwise. So, what did I learn about this salamander that drew such attention from an aspiring biologist?
The Jefferson salamander was named after Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, now Washington and Jefferson College. The naming was in partial honor of President Thomas Jefferson, who was an accomplished naturalist.
The Jefferson is a mole salamander, a group of advanced salamanders common to North America, whose genus has become somewhat famous due to the presence of the axolotl — the Mexican walking fish.
The Jefferson is usually dark gray, brown, or black on top, with a lighter shade on its bottom with many exhibiting silver or blue specks on their sides. They’re slender, 4 to 7 inches in length with a wide nose and distinctively long toes.
Like other mole salamanders, the Jefferson burrows, wintering under the surface. Normally nocturnal, this shy salamander is seldom spotted, though it’s common in many moist deciduous forests as it hides under rocks, rotting logs and in the leaf clutter.
As amphibians go, the Jefferson is something of an early riser. When the breeding season urges them from their burrows in late February and early March to search for a mate, they often find snow and ice on the ground.
The little guys can be found scooting across these frozen patches in search of the temporary vernal pools and shallow ponds that are transforming during spring’s early thaws. The males are the first to move while small pores on their heads excrete a liquid which is thought to provide a scent trail for others to follow.
That young college student had a plan to intercept the Jefferson during this migration. He had come up with the idea of forming extended barriers with corrugated steel pieces pushed into the forest floor, hoping the salamanders would try to scoot around the barriers. Coffee cans buried on each end were hoped to work as pit traps.
It worked. Photographs were taken, with measurements and numbers documented. Any other species that happened into the trap were also recorded, and all were immediately released into the nearest appropriate breeding site.
Females lay eggs in masses of 10 to 20 and may produce hundreds of eggs in one season. They attach them to underwater vegetation, where the eggs will hatch in 35 to 40 days. The young are called larvae and are carnivorous. They eat aquatic invertebrates, but they can become cannibalistic if food is in short supply. Adults are also carnivorous, eating a variety of small invertebrates.
The Jefferson often crossbreeds with the blue-spotted salamander, producing a fertile hybrid known as the triploid Jefferson salamander. The hybrid is always a female and appears almost identical to the Jefferson. The triploid mates with the male Jefferson salamander, producing additional triploid females.
The Jefferson salamander welcomes spring in its own, unique and instinctual way, working hard to ensure that its species continues. Its greatest threat is the destruction of those deciduous woodlands that are found in lowlands surrounding our streams and rivers.
“The best type of learning occurs when you don’t know it’s happening; the worst type of ignorance occurs when you ignore the lessons.” — Anonymous

Along the way
You can offer your comments and ideas regarding the proposed hunting, trapping and fishing regulations at a series of Division of Wildlife open houses. They’ll be held on Saturday, March 3, between noon and 3 p.m.
Open house locations are: Wildlife District Two, 952 Lima Ave., Findlay; Wildlife District One, 1500 Dublin Road, Columbus; Greene County Fish and Game, 1538 Union Road, Xenia; Wildlife District Three, 912 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron; and Wildlife District Four, 360 E. State St., Athens.
You may also post comments online now through Sunday, March 4. Visit www.wildohio.gov.
Division of Wildlife biologists and law enforcement officers will be available to answer questions and receive comments.
Step outside
• Here’s a little bit of the new Ohio Department of Natural Resources math: 10,480 fishermen are required to purchase their 2018 fishing license in order to pay the salaries of the Division of Wildlife’s two assistant chief positions. One’s experience includes the Ohio Department of Aging and the Department of Youth Services. The other worked as a wildlife officer, quit to go to work for a welding and machining company, quit to work with the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, returned as a wildlife officer, quit to take a job as a park manager, and has since been assigned as the other assistant chief of the Division of Wildlife.
They are now second in command of all of Ohio’s wildlife resources, though there may be a third assistant chief. He was serving at the position and left to take over the Division of Forestry. Evidently, he has returned and is possibly splitting his time between the divisions. Depending upon who is paying for that unscheduled spot within the table of organization, 2018 may need to be a banner year in license sales.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• March 8: Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference. Doors open at 8 a.m., welcome at 9 a.m., Ohio Union, 1739 North High St., Columbus. The themed programming will be “Predators, Never Late for Dinner.” Seminars will study the prey habits of bats, raptors, dragon and damsel flies, urban canids, coyotes, habitats and photography. Preregistration is $25 if paid before March 1. After that date or on site will be $35. Visit: www.ohiodnr.gov/Wildlife/DiversityRegistration.
• March 8: Hunting film tour, hosted by the Sportsmen’s Alliance. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., show begins at 7 p.m., Drexel Theatre, 2254 E. Main St., Columbus. Join fellow sportsmen and women for an evening of incredible outdoor films, giveaways and good times. Tickets are $12, available online: www.sportsmensalliance.org/hunting-film-tour.
• March 10: Blanchard Valley Friends of the NRA fundraiser, Findlay Event Center (formerly Timber Lanes), 1400 Sixth St., Findlay. Doors open at 5 p.m. For tickets, contact Clint Butler at 419-722-6003 or email Blanchardvalleynra@gmail.com.
• March 10: Hancock County Pheasants Forever banquet and auction, Sterling Center behind Hancock County Humane Society, 4550 Fostoria Ave., Findlay. Tickets are $60 for a single, $85 for couples. Entry includes dinner, annual membership to Pheasants Forever, and a subscription to Pheasants Forever magazine. For tickets, contact Andrew Crates at andrew@coldrencrates.com or Mark Plesec at meplesec@coopertire.com.
• March 16-18: Ohio Deer and Turkey Expo, Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave., Columbus. Features the latest strategies, trends, hunting techniques, exhibitors, outfitters, interactive activities, seminars and displays. Local hunters can enter their best deer from any season for display and official scoring by the Buckeye Big Buck Club. An entry costs $20 for scoring and display, while prescored trophies can be entered for $10. All include a three-day pass to the expo. Tickets are $15, $20 for two days and include your choice of a free subscription to either Field and Stream or Outdoor Life. Kids ages 6 to 15 get in for $5. Hours are: Friday, 2 to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com.



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