Greetings River Lovers! This week's issue is all about salamanders! Did you know that the southern Appalachian Mountains are a hotspot for salamander diversity? In this issue we’ll learn about these amazing little creatures, as well as learn more about the diversity of this region. We hope you enjoy!
Salamanders can be found in both terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water) habitats, though those that live on land need to be near water since their skin must stay wet. These characteristics make the southern Appalachian Mountains a great home to many salamander species as there is lots of water in the region. According to the North Carolina Wildlife Commission, “ North Carolina is home to more than 65 species of salamanders, with over 50 species in the mountain region alone.” The Blue Ridge Mountains are a hotspot for salamander diversity with many species being endemic to this area, which means they are only found here!
The Wild Report put together a great video showing you a few of the different species you’ll find, along with some cool information about salamanders. You can watch it by clicking here.There are many different patterns and colors which salamanders use for camouflage and to warn predators not to eat them. You can create your own camouflaged salamander using the craft instructions found on the Kids & Glitter link to the left!
The Eastern Hellbender is one of the largest salamanders found in North Carolina and the United States (NC Wildlife Commission, 2016). These fascinating creatures play an important role in our aquatic ecosystems and rely on us to take care of the water. Hellbenders face many risks to their habitat including pollution, sedimentation, and human interference. There are many ways we can work together to restore the river habitats so these incredible salamanders have a safe and healthy home.
Some of the measures we can take to support hellbenders include keeping our water free of pollution, refraining from stacking rocks in waterways (they can fall and injure hellbenders) and not picking them up (The oils on our hands can clog the pores of salamander’s skin and make it difficult for them to breathe). To learn more about Hellbenders check out this great video from the Toledo Zoo, and remember, the best way to appreciate all this wonderful species diversity is through observation and habitat restoration!
Salamanders Are Great Bioindicators
Salamanders are amphibians, like frogs and toads, which means their skin is permeable and they need to live in or close to water. This is important because, as long as their skin is wet, they can breathe through it! For some salamanders, this is the only way they can breath, but others have lungs, gills, or even a combination of all three. Also, like frogs and toads, salamanders go through a metamorphosis, which means they might look different as babies, or juveniles, than they do as adults.
Their skin being permeable also means that they are ectotherms, or cold-blooded. This means that instead of their bodies automatically regulating temperature like ours does, they have to use the environment or behavior to cool down or warm up. That is partly why they are often found under logs, leaves, or rocks because they are either trying to warm up on colder days or stay cool on warm ones.
Because they can absorb things from the environment through their skin, salamanders and their eggs are susceptible to pollutants and toxins. This makes salamanders great bioindicators since many can’t survive or reproduce when the environment isn’t healthy.
For some scientists, looking for salamanders is their job! You can check out a video below that was done by the Smithsonian showing one of their teams doing a salamander survey in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Western North Carolina region is home to many diverse habitats and species, with over 2000 different fungi, over 1000 flowering plants, and hundreds of mosses and ferns! Various researchers, non-profit organizations, government institutions, universities, and filmmakers are lending their expertise to bring awareness to the importance of conserving the southern Appalachian Mountains and the unique ecosystems found there.
Some key players in this mission are the creators of HotSpot, a documentary film that follows conservationists – including a scientist, hiker, hunter and indigenous leader — who are on the forefront of protecting this unique region. Working across organizational boundaries, these conservationists are confronted with the complexities of conservation while battling against conflicting interests, extractive industries and climate change. After years of struggle, they will discover if their life's work will save one of the most biodiverse and overlooked regions in the temperate world.
We are thinking of you all in these uncertain times and hope you are staying healthy and safe! Thanks to your generous support we are able to continue our Education,Water Quality and Land Conservation programs, but we couldn't do it without you!