The Night I Saw an Eastern Tiger Salamander

By Colleen Beaty|April 10, 2014

Way back in college I took a Herpetology class, which included four outdoor field trips. One of my fondest memories from that class is our nighttime field trip to a large vernal pool in a nearby forest.

Eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). Photo courtesy of USGS

Eastern tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). Photo courtesy of USGS

There was, of course, an abundance of spring peepers and other tree frogs, complete with the cacophony of all the males calling for mates. Vernal pools like the one I visited that night are particularly attractive to amphibians because they provide a relatively safe place for them to breed in the spring. Vernal pools are temporary wetlands–they fill up during periods of heavy rainfall (usually the spring), and then slowly dry up. This means they can’t support fully-aquatic species fish, which would eat amphibians’ eggs.

But what most stands out about that night is the first–and only–time I saw an eastern tiger salamander. I still vividly remember watching a male tiger salamander walking along the bottom of the pool right near my feet. I was awed by how large it was, and how attractive it was with its vivid yellow markings, sturdy body, and long flared tail.

Of course, those of us walking through the pool spent the rest of the night carefully watching our step so we wouldn’t hurt any salamanders!

The tiger salamander is indeed one of the largest salamanders in North America, and also one of the most widespread. You would think, then, that they’d be easy to find; in reality, adults are rarely seen out in the open, since they live in burrows several feet below the surface. So maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get to see another one of these amazing animals in my lifetime–or maybe you will!

What is your most memorable wildlife viewing experience? Share it in the comments, we’d love to hear your stories!

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