The Mysterious Salamander

Audio:  mp3

Tiger salamander egg mass
Copyright 2009 Jason Jones
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Salamanders have long been a source of mystery for humans and their name reflects some of this mystique. The word salamander has its roots in an Arab-Persian word meaning ‘lives in fire’, reflecting an early belief that salamanders could walk through fire unscathed. Mentioned by Aristotle, Aesop, and Shakespeare, this myth likely arose from salamanders that fled the fireplace once their cozy home in the woodpile was disturbed

Utah is home to only one of the world’s more than 500 salamander species. Our tiger salamanders can live in a multitude of different habitats, so long as there is access to fresh water. Because of their need to stay moist, salamanders live a life often hidden from view – spending much of their time underneath rocks, leaves, and other debris. But in early spring, these unique creatures become more active and leave their homes in search of a mate.

Long-toed salamander larvae
in an egg
Copyright 2007 Jason JonesUtah Division of Wildlife Resources

The salamander lifecycle is similar to that of a frog. Eggs are laid in a pond or other source of still water, and hatch into larvae called efts, which look quite like their frog counterpart, the tadpole. After spending a few weeks in the larval stage, individuals metamorphose into an adult.

While modern science has debunked a lot of salamander myths one big mystery still remains. Not all salamanders undergo metamorphosis to become what we recognize as an adult salamander. Some remain in the larval form their entire life, and are even able to reproduce as larvae. This phenomenon, called paedomorphism, has been documented in a number of salamander species, and scientists don’t really understand why or how it happens. Some speculate that the ability to morph or not helps salamanders overcome environmental challenges, such as competition for resources, lack of water, or increased predation.

Tiger salamander eft
Copyright 2007 Jason Jones
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Unfortunately, this amazing adaptation has not helped salamanders overcome recent decreases in population that baffled scientists for many years. At one time mysterious, scientists now understand that salamanders are some of the first species to show the effects of pollution in their environment. Now that this particular salamander mystery has been solved, these animals are playing an increasingly important role in determining ecosystem health which may help save many other species.

For more information and photographs of tiger salamanders, please visit our website at www.wildaboututah.org. Thank you to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

Adult tiger salamander
Copyright 2002 Richard Fridell
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

Credits:

Photos:

Courtesy & Copyright Jason Jones, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Courtesy & Copyright Richard Fridell, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Courtesy & Copyright Krissy Wilson, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Text: Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center

Adult tiger salamander,
Copyright 2002 Krissy Wilson
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Additional Reading:

Donel, M., Joly, P., Whiteman, H.H. 2005. Evolutionary Ecology of Facultative Paedomorphosis in Newts and Salamanders. Biological Review 80 663-671,

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1017
/S1464793105006858/abstract

Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, Second Edition. 2003. Volume 6: Amphibians. Farmington Hills, MI: Thompson Gale, http://www.amazon.com/Grzimeks-Animal-Life-Encyclopedia-Amphibians/dp/0787657824

Harbison, J. 1/26/2005. The Salamander’s Flame: Debunking the Myth of the Fireproof Lizard. Lecture, Middlebury College. Accessed online at:
https://segue.middlebury.edu/view/html/site/engl1006a-w05/node/7187479

Stebbins, Robert C. 2003. Peterson Field Guides: Western Reptiles and Amphibians, Third Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company., http://www.amazon.com/Field-Western-Reptiles-Amphibians-Peterson/dp/0395982723

Whiteman, Howard H. 1994. Evolution of Facultative Paedomorphosis in Salamanders. The Quarterly Review of Biology 69(2) 205-220, http://www.jstor.org/pss/3037717

Bald Eagles

Audio:  mp3

Bald Eagle Feeding
Copyright © 2011 Bryant Olsen

Bald Eagle in Flight
Copyright © 2011 Bryant Olsen

Juvenile Bald Eagle in Flight
Copyright © 2011 Terry Greene

Flying Immature Bald Eagle
Copyright © 2011 Terry Greene

Flying Immature Bald Eagle

Copyright © 2011 Terry Greene, Photographer

When winter arrives in Utah, a number of our bird species hit the road – some flying thousands of miles to Mexico and Central America in search of a warm winter home.

But there is one notable bird that actually migrates to Utah in the winter – the bald eagle. In general, birds migrate because of seasonal food shortages. Think of the hummingbirds that rely on flower nectar and insects, which Utah cannot provide in winter, but which are abundant other times of the year. The same is true for bald eagles, whose main food source is fish. Winter comes on strong in Alaska and Canada, freezing lakes, ponds, and all but the strongest flowing rivers. So the birds travel to seek out the relatively mild winters found farther south.

One of the largest birds of prey you’ll see in our Utah skies, a mature bald eagle can have a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet and stand almost three feet tall. Only the golden eagle rivals it in size. Pairs are thought to mate for life, and they are also responsible for the largest nests of any bird in North America. One record-setting abode measured 9 feet wide, 20 feet deep, and weighed more than 2 tons.

And to think, we almost lost this incredible species. Since DDT and hunting heavily affected bald eagle numbers in the early half of the 20th century, the birds have made a truly remarkable comeback. From a low point around 4,000 individuals in the lower 48 states, they are now thought to number in the tens of thousands, and have been removed from the Threatened and Endangered Species lists.

Perhaps as their comeback continues, Utah will once again see these majestic animals make their massive nests here, fishing in our many rivers and lakes year round. For now, though, aside from a few rare exceptions, bald eagle enthusiasts will have to make the most of their short winter stay. To observe bald eagles, consider a visit to the Great Salt Lake Nature Center at Farmington Bay. Every year, the Bay plays host to hundreds of eagles, from November to March, and while this milder-than-usual winter has brought in fewer numbers of eagles, you may still be able to catch a glimpse. They will likely be heading north later this month, however, so don’t delay. And be sure to keep your ears tuned into the bald eagle’s haunting song:

[Bald Eagle call from Songbirds of Yellowstone, Kevin Colver 7loons.com]

Thank you to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic. For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

Credits:

Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Bryant Olsen and
            Courtesy & Copyright Terry Greene
Text:    Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, logannature.org

Additional Reading:

Parrish, J. and Walters, B., Editors. (2009) Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). Utah Division of Wildlife Resources: Wildlife Notebook Series No. 3. http://wildlife.utah.gov/publications/pdf/2010_bald_eagle.pdf

National Geographic Society (2012) Animals: Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/bald-eagle/

Western Banded Gecko

Audio:  mp3

Western Banded Gecko
Courtesy NPS

They might catch your eye as they dart under sagebrush. Or maybe startle you with their pushups on a boulder. Odds are, you won’t leave Arches or Canyonlands national parks without seeing a Western Banded Gecko.

These lizards can grow to six inches in length, though that’s on the large side, and half of that length might be their tail. Pale-pink and brown-banded translucent skin distinguishes Western Banded Geckos from all other lizards that live in the same desert surroundings, and their heads and bodies are speckled with light brown. The brown bands are vibrant in young Western Banded Geckos, and then change into blotches, or spots, with age.

The small scales that cover their body are soft to touch, and their slender toes leave no room for pads. Movable eyelids and vertical pupils also set them apart.

The Western Banded Gecko typically are spotted in rocky or sandy desert areas in the American Southwest. They are fond of open, dry deserts, desert grasslands, and catching the sun in the canyons. You can spot them, or one of the eight subspecies, in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, as well as in Arches and Canyonlands.

Like other geckos, these lizards generally avoid the day heat and prefer the cool night air. They seek shelter during the day near or under rocks, burrows, and spaces beneath vegetative debris, and even trash piles if necessary. They frequent rodent burrows as they hunt insects, spiders, small arthropods, and baby scorpions.

The Western Banded Gecko stalks its prey, capturing and crushing it with its jaws in a final, fatal lunge. The small gecko is one of the few reptiles credited with controlling the scorpion population, by eating their young. The Western Banded Gecko can also mimic a scorpion, by turning its tail upwards, and waving it to repel predators.

In addition to this deception, Western Banded Geckos use other methods to divert predators. Be forewarned: if you plan on catching a Western Banded Gecko, be prepared to hear a squeak or chirp in disagreement. You may even see them detach their tail. Their tail has particular fracture planes, allowing the lizard to easily detach and escape, similar to other lizards. Blood vessels surrounding the tail rapidly close, so they can prevent blood loss. Regrowth of their tails happens quickly, as it is mostly made up of cartilage.

Though the tail serves as an easy escape route, it means a lot to a Western Banded Gecko: that’s where it stores its food and water. Their tail allows these animals to survive during lean times, up to nine months. As you can imagine, losing a tail puts their life in danger, so look but don’t touch.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

Wilderness

Audio:  mp3

High Unitas Wilderness, Utah
Courtesy Wilderness.net
Copyright © 2009 Cordell Andersen, Photographer

Red Butte Wilderness, Utah
Courtesy
Wilderness.net
Copyright © 2011 Paul Gooch, Photographer

Wellsville Mountain Wilderness, Utah
Courtesy Wilderness.net
Copyright © 2011 Dusty Vaughn, Photographer

Paria Canyon
Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Courtesy Wilderness.net
Copyright © 2011 Mike Salamacha, Paria Ranger, BLM, Photographer

 

Wilderness. The word conjures up romantic images of wide open landscapes teeming with birds, beasts, and plants. I imagine places untouched by human influence – truly wild and free. Places that are exotic and far away.

But wilderness exists much closer than you may think.

The United States Congress adopted the Wilderness Act with a nearly unanimous vote in 1964. Ours was the first country in the world to define and designate wilderness areas – lands valued enough to be set aside for the purpose of protection.

Currently, the Wilderness Act protects 757 individual wilderness areas across the United States – totaling more than 109 million acres. Thirty-three wilderness areas are found in Utah, and they protect a variety of unique landscapes from the red rock desert found in Red Butte Wilderness to the alpine forests of the High Uintas Wilderness. While the landscapes may look incredibly different from one wilderness area to the next, these lands share a number of qualities which can be described by adjectives such as peaceful, quiet, untouched, and pristine.

These areas protect some of the most unique and incredible landscapes that Utah has to offer, but that doesn’t mean they’re off limits. Our wilderness areas are just that – ours. They are public lands, accessible to anyone who wants to visit – so long as you tread lightly.

Areas that fall under its protection are described in the Wilderness Act as “lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition…” which “…shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreation, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation and historic use.” These amazing lands were set aside in 1964 with an eye to the future and because of it, should still be around for your grandchildren’s grandchildren to enjoy.

There is an ongoing effort to educate Americans about the immense value of preserving wilderness areas. For without education, they may one day be selfishly reclaimed and lost. One of these educational opportunities is coming to Logan on April 13th and 14th. The Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center will be hosting a teacher training workshop in conjunction with the Stokes Nature Center and the Utah Society for Environmental Education. The workshop is aimed at teachers in grades 5-8, though anyone is welcome to attend. For more information, please contact the Stokes Nature Center at www.logannature.org

Not a teacher? The best way to learn about wilderness areas is to go visit one! Information, and photos of Utah Wilderness Areas, can be found at www.wildaboututah.org

For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy Wilderness.net, Steve Archibald, (Individual Copyrights noted)
Text:    Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center, logannature.org

Additional Reading:
The Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center:
wilderness.net

Wilderness Investigations teacher training workshop:
logannature.org/wi_workshop

The Arches Of Zion National Park

Audio:  mp3

Kolob Arch
Zions National Park
Photo Courtesy NPS

Hoodoo Arch
Zions National Park
Photo Courtesy NPS

Historic Crawford Arch
Zions National Park
Photo Courtesy NPS

Hidden Arch
Zions National Park
Photo Courtesy NPS


Though another national park in Utah is famous for arches, Zion National Park has more than you might imagine.

Doubt it? Next time you visit the park, take a good look around. All the elements for arch building are readily on hand in Zion.

A natural arch is formed when deep cracks penetrate into a sandstone layer. Erosion wears away the exposed rock layers and the surface cracks expand, isolating narrow sandstone walls, or fins. Water, frost, and the release of tensions in the rock cause crumbling and flaking of the porous sandstone and eventually cut through some of the fins. The resulting holes become enlarged to arch proportions by rockfalls and weathering.

Worldwide, arches number in the tens of thousands, and probably no place is more suited for their creation than the Colorado Plateau, home of Zion National Park. The vast geology of Zion has created environments as widespread and varied as the topography of the park itself.

Hidden in its geologic grandeur are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of freestanding arches of all shapes and sizes. Although freestanding arches may be found in many different types of geologic formations, the Navajo Sandstone formation, which makes up the magnificent cliffs of Zion, provides a fertile setting for the creation of these ribbons of rock.

Among the many arches in Zion, two stand out: Crawford Arch and Kolob Arch. Crawford Arch is the most visible, clinging to the base of Bridge Mountain a thousand feet above the Zion Canyon floor. It’s frequently pointed out to casual observers by an interpretive sign located on the front patio of the Human History Museum.

The other famous arch in Zion is not so easily seen. Located deep in the backcountry of the national park’s Kolob Canyons District — it takes a seven-mile hike in to reach– Kolob Arch is hidden in a small side canyon, perched high on the canyon wall.

For most of the 20th century, many believed that Kolob was in fact the world’s largest freestanding arch, leading to years of debate and the motivation for various parties of adventurous thrill seekers to climb on and around the massive span in hopes of securing a defensible measurement.

The Natural Arch and Bridge Society long has pondered this question, and using lasers and an agreed upon definition of what should be measured says Landscape Arch is the world’s longest stone arch. But don’t be surprised if the debate continues.

The definition used by the society centers on the “maximum horizontal extent of the opening.” That opening beneath Landscape Arch measures right around 290.1 (plus or minus 0.8 feet) feet across.

The opening beneath Zion National Park’sKolob Arch, which long had been in the running for world’s largest, measures 287.4 feet (plus or minus 2 feet), according to the group.

Despite its isolated location, Kolob Arch has become a favorite backcountry destination for thousands of visitors to Zion. They discover what most arch seekers will tell you: while beauty awaits every seeker at the end of the path, the reward begins unfolding at the trailhead.

Anxious to see another arch, but not ready for a 14-mile roundtrip hike? Then head for Double Alcove ARch. A 5-mile roundtrip along the Taylor Creek Trail takes you into a narrow box canyon toward the Double Arch Alcove, where erosion has carved out natural openings in the Navajo sandstone.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek/, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/browse/Arches%20National%20Park

http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm