Slender Salamanders

California Slender Salamanders

As I was doing a little yardwork – yes, I’m still at it- I moved a big pile of
leaves and uncovered the most common salamander, actually I dare say
the most common amphibian, in our region – the California slender
salamander. It is also known as the worm salamander and indeed it is thin
with teeny, tiny legs.

Alarmed, its natural response was to thrash back-and-forth rapidly and then
go perfectly still. I guess that strategy works most of the time. The color is
rather cryptic mostly brown with a broad dark maroon stripe running right
down the back. And when it abruptly stopped against the dirt, it was
challenging to see.

But If a predator does attack, the tail can be sacrificed and re-grown with
little problem. One researcher watched a slender salamander twist its tail
into a knot around a garter snakes head. It then secreted a substance that
glued the snake’s jaws shut for 48 hours. So don’t mess around with Slim!
California slender salamanders were originally considered one species
thriving in the Coast Ranges from Monterey to Oregon and in the northern
Sierra foothills. They have now been split into five separate species. But
you’d have to analyze their DNA to tell the difference. The reason for this
extraordinary success and wide distribution is simple. They are very small
only 5 inches including the long tail at max. This coupled with those small
legs enables then to enter earthworm and termite holes. Here they find
plenty of food – small mites, springtails, baby spiders, whatever. Many
different ecosystems meet these basic requirments.

And unlike other amphibians this salamander has severed all ties to water.
It mates underground in moist environments and the fertilized eggs hatch
directly into miniature salamanders. No need for ponds, lakes or streams.
During the dry months it lowers its metabolic rate, finds a moist area and
just waits for the next rain.

Those of us lucky enough to have a patch of yard in cities or suburbs can
readily find these little delights in leaf litter. Native wildlife, we’ll take what
we can get.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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Posted on

June 9, 2021