Thursday, September 1, 2016

Salamanders need a home

Posted by Jonathan Regosin (Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife) and Richard B. Primack

“I am glad to recognize [a great blue heron] for a native of America—why not as an American citizen?” 
-Henry David Thoreau

Compared to common red-backed salamanders, yellow-spotted salamanders are massive. They are 4-6 inches long, have the girth of an index finger, and look almost pudgy. People usually see adult spotted salamanders only on the first warm rainy nights of March, when they migrate to breed in vernal ponds—small ponds that dry out in summer and lack predatory fish. When the pools dry out in summer, the young salamanders depart for the surrounding forests where they burrow in the ground and are rarely seen.

In Newton, yellow-spotted salamanders live most abundantly just west of Hammond Pond Parkway in the Webster Woods and breed at Bare Pond. It is called Bare Pond because it dries out or is “bare” during the summer. It is hard to know how many yellow-spotted salamanders live in Webster Woods, but a reasonable guess would be several hundred adults. Spotted salamanders are protected by Massachusetts state law; people are not allowed to collect or possess spotted salamanders, and vernal pool habitats and the surrounding forest are given some enhanced protections.

The future of Bare Pond and the surrounding upland forest habitat where adult yellow-spotted salamanders live, now hangs in the balance with the recent sale of a large part of the Webster Woods to Boston College. Developing any of the land just beyond the pond could directly harm spotted salamanders living in the ground and indirectly damage the water quality of the pond. Action is urgently needed to protect a unique natural area in the Webster Woods for the yellow-spotted salamander, other forest creatures, and future generations of Newton residents who enjoy nature.

A longer version of this article was published in the Newton Tab.

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