Tiger Salamander, Utah’s only salamander

Tiger Salamander, Utah’s only salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum, Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh, Photographer, licensed under CreativeCommons 2.0
Tiger Salamander
Ambystoma tigrinum
Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh, Photographer
License: Creative Commons 2.0
Tiger Salamanders, named for their bold black-and-orange stripes, are Utah’s only salamander. Secretive inhabitants of our forests, streams, and lakes, these amphibians are rarely seen. Tiger Salamanders spend most of their year underground, in moist burrows beneath logs and among tree roots. They come to the surface just once a year, emerging at night in the early spring to trek across the snow to newly-thawed wetlands.

Many people see Tiger Salamanders only when one accidentally falls into their window well. About 6 inches long, with a 6-inch tail, they are often mistaken for lizards even though they are more closely related to frogs. This is more obvious when you look at a salamander’s aquatic larvae, which hatch from tiny, shell-less eggs that resemble caviar. At first, they sport gills and have only tiny limbs. Usually, they metamorphose after about 2 ½ months, transforming into boldly-barred adults. Occasionally, if wetland conditions are safe, they can mature in their natal pond, becoming juvenile-like adults called paedomorphs, which can breed but resemble gigantic larvae.

Tiger Salamanders select very particular wetlands. They particularly look for bodies of water that don’t have any large, predatory fishes that would eat their eggs. Well-known examples of breeding sites in Utah include Lake Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Tony Grove Lake in Logan Canyon, and the aptly-named Salamander Lake in Stewart Canyon on the northeast slope of Mt. Timpanogos.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Andrew Durso.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh, Photographer, licensed under CreativeCommons 2.0.
Text: Andrew Durso, http://www.biology.usu.edu/htm/our-people/graduate-students?memberID=6753

Additional Reading:

Amphibian Decline: Saving the Salamander, Karen Lips AAAS – The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC 20005, http://youtu.be/mgVPh8PCCk4, (Accessed: Feb 15, 2016)

Save the salamanders, unsung heroes of the forest, Brian Resnick, Science Reporter Vox, Interviewing Matthew Grey, University of Tennessee Knoxville, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnrSa18-onc, (Accessed: Feb 15, 2016)

AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. Ambystoma tigrinum. 2016. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: http://amphibiaweb.org/. (Accessed: Feb 15, 2016).

Tiger Salamanders Ambystoma tigrinum

Tiger Salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum. Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh, Photographer, licensed under CreativeCommons 2.0
Tiger Salamander
Ambystoma tigrinum
Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh, Photographer
License: Creative Commons 2.0
Tiger Salamanders, named for their bold black-and-orange stripes, are Utah’s only salamander. Secretive inhabitants of our forests, streams, and lakes, these amphibians are rarely seen. Tiger Salamanders spend most of their year underground, in moist burrows beneath logs and among tree roots. They come to the surface just once a year, emerging at night in the early spring to trek across the snow to newly-thawed wetlands.

Many people see Tiger Salamanders only when one accidentally falls into their window well. About 6 inches long, with a 6-inch tail, they are often mistaken for lizards even though they are more closely related to frogs. This is more obvious when you look at a salamander’s aquatic larvae, which hatch from tiny, shell-less eggs that resemble caviar. At first, they sport gills and have only tiny limbs. Usually, they metamorphose after about 2 ½ months, transforming into boldly-barred adults. Occasionally, if wetland conditions are safe, they can mature in their natal pond, becoming juvenile-like adults called paedomorphs, which can breed but resemble gigantic larvae.

Tiger Salamanders select very particular wetlands. They particularly look for bodies of water that don’t have any large, predatory fishes that would eat their eggs. Well-known examples of breeding sites in Utah include Lake Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Tony Grove Lake in Logan Canyon, and the aptly-named Salamander Lake in Stewart Canyon on the northeast slope of Mt. Timpanogos.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Andrew Durso.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy Andrey Zharkikh, Photographer, licensed under CreativeCommons 2.0.
Text: Andrew Durso, http://www.biology.usu.edu/htm/our-people/graduate-students?memberID=6753

Additional Reading:

Amphibian Decline: Saving the Salamander, Karen Lips AAAS – The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC 20005, http://youtu.be/mgVPh8PCCk4, (Accessed: Feb 15, 2016)

Save the salamanders, unsung heroes of the forest, Brian Resnick, Science Reporter Vox, Interviewing Matthew Grey, University of Tennessee Knoxville, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnrSa18-onc, (Accessed: Feb 15, 2016)

AmphibiaWeb: Information on amphibian biology and conservation. Ambystoma tigrinum. 2016. Berkeley, California: AmphibiaWeb. Available: http://amphibiaweb.org/. (Accessed: Feb 15, 2016).

Seasonal Changes and Amazing Adaptations

Seasonal Changes and Amazing Adaptations: Click for a larger view of a Dark-eyed 'Oregon' Junco Male, Junco hyemalis montanus, Courtesy and copyright 2008 Ryan P. O'Donnell
Dark-eyed Junco “Oregon” Male
Junco hyemalis montanus
Courtesy & © 2008 Ryan P. O’Donnell 


Biking daily from Smithfield Canyon to USU campus, combined with an early am run, I’m well aware of the drop in temperatures, as are those of us who find themselves outdoors on a more permanent schedule. I’m speaking of our relatives who reside in the wild- birds, trees, raccoons, and such.

While I put on an extra layer or two, plants and animals have far more sophisticated adaptations from behavioral to physiological to structural.

We are all aware of the marvelous migration and hibernation behaviors, so let’s add a few more amazing adaptations to the list.

I’ll begin with a bird that is very common at our winter feeder- the Dark-eyed Junco. which responds to the first shortening days of summer with a series of physical changes: its reproductive organs become inactive and shrink in size, hormones stimulate the rapid growth of a new set of feathers, and fat deposits develop to provide fuel for the long migratory flight ahead.

Thus the preparation for migration starts as soon as the days begin to shorten. And the process must operate in reverse when the bird is in its winter habitat in the United States. As soon as days begin to lengthen, the Dark-eyed Junco must gear up physically for the flight north and breeding season. If it fails to do so, it likely won’t survive a long-distance migration. So the cycle of life and its related migrations and transitions are deeply connected to the heavens.

Plants are no less amazing. Those in temperate zones must also set their calendars accurately in order to flower and, for deciduous species, develop and drop leaves at the optimal time. Plants set their internal calendars using several attributes from the sunlight they receive. In fact, the angle of the sun may be more important to a plant than day length.

That’s because plant cells produce compounds called phytochromes in response to different portions of the light spectrum. Direct sunlight is higher in red light, while indirect sunlight contains more far-red light. During late fall and early winter, when the sun remains low in the southern sky, the indirect light produces an increase in far-red phytochromes.

As spring approaches and the arc of the sun rises in the sky, direct sunlight triggers the production of red phytochromes. The ratio of these two compounds mediates the hormones involved in flowering, leaf drop, and bud development. Even seeds below the soil are affected. The amount of red and far-red light that penetrate the soil is sufficient to govern germination.

Some behavioral alterations worth mention beyond migrating and hibernation are herding and flocking, huddling to share body warmth, dietary change, hair & feather change- both color and structure, and many more but my radio time is ending, so now it’s your turn to explore more! It really does make you appreciated the wonders of nature.

This is Jack Greene for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy and copyright 2008 Ryan P. O’Donnell
Text:     Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society


Additional Reading:

Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis, Aynsley Carroll, Animal Diversity Web, http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Junco_hyemalis/

Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis, Aynsley Carroll, Boreal Songbird Initiative, http://www.borealbirds.org/bird/dark-eyed-junco

https://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=junco+winter+reproductive+cycles

Jigang Lia, Gang Lib, Haiyang Wangb, and Xing Wang Denga, Phytochrome Signaling Mechanisms, The Arabidopsis Book, American Society of Plant Biologists, 2011, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3268501/ pdf

The Mysterious Salamander

Tiger salamander egg mass, Copyright and courtesy of Jason Jones, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
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 and courtesy of Jason Jones, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
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 and courtesy of Jason Jones, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
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 and courtesy of Richard Fridell, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
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 and courtesy of Krissy Wilson, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
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

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