Wild Profile: Meet the yellow-spotted salamander

An adult yellow-spotted salamander on a rock next to lichen By Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock

If you’ve spotted the yellow-spotted salamander, you’ll know exactly what it is—just look at those neon-bright spots! Okay, truth: you probably won’t often see these stealthy, puppy-faced amphibians. They’re fond of hiding beneath mossy rocks or inside rotting stumps. But they’re there. These salamanders usually only emerge on damp, early-May nights, and hit the water—large ponds, or small, boggy, lakes—hoping to (what else?) hook up.

Males head to the breeding ponds first, and hang out at the bottom, in throngs of up to 100. Female salamanders arrive a few nights later. Once a pair gets together, and the business of egg fertilization happens, female yellow spots lay pockets of eggs on underwater sticks or stems. The egg casings are permeable, and absorb water. Consequently, one egg can swell to the size of a road-hockey ball. Whoa! The eggs also absorb algae, which turns them green. In a strange symbiotic relationship, the algae provides the embryo with oxygen, and in turn, feeds off the carbon dioxide and other nutrients the salamander-in-the-making is producing. Teamwork makes the dream work!

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Baby salamanders hatch alone in summer, long after their parents have left. The tadpoles develop lungs and legs, and eventually crawl out of the water. Juvenile yellow spots are jet-black; they don’t develop spots until a few weeks later. They’ll spend up to seven years alone, before making their way back to the pond where they were born, ready to reproduce. How do they find their way back? Experts don’t know for sure. Yellow-spotted salamanders are deaf and practically mute, but one theory is that they have special photoreceptors in their eyes that can detect the earth’s magnetic field. Cool!

Amphibians, like all wildlife, are in rough shape these days. Recent research shows that wildlife populations have dropped by 68 per cent over the last 50 years. 

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