October 4th, 2010


Loaded question

Oh, hey, it's the moving issue again! I have a lot to fill you people in on, but not just yet. Either my life is going to totally change in some really unpredictable way very soon, or my life will change in a much less extreme way a little further down the line. Is that vague enough?

So here's my loaded question:

What about Los Angeles?

Urban Nature Pictures 10/1; 50 More Urban Species #39 Red-backed salamander

Red-backed salamander Plethodon cinereus

It's been almost ten years since I've photographed a red-backed salamander in the city. There are very few amphibians on my lists of urban species (two frog species and now two salamander species at this point). Amphibians have the challenge of a permeable skin, which exposes them to the various pollutants in the urban environment. They are particularly sensitive to acidic substrates, a condition which has been increasing in their eastern forest habitat for more than a century. In the case of the red-backed salamander, their skin is their only mode of respiration: they are lungless salamanders.

Despite this anatomical obstacle, red-backed salamanders are thought to be the most common amphibian species in the northeast North America. Unlike frogs and many other salamanders, they don't require bodies of water to breed; their offspring are born as miniature adults instead of as gilled larvae. They live in leaf litter, feeding on small invertebrates. Females guard their eggs until they hatch, and relatives recognize one another by scent and tolerate each other within a territory. These tiny animals (three inches long is a very large individual) are thought to live to about 10 years old, and possibly as old as thirty.

This individual was taking shelter in the fronds of a hen-of-the-woods mushroom, on a rainy afternoon in the Riverway.