By Aaron Henry
It looks like Cherokee Park has had a number of new visitors lately. According to recent research, a variety of salamanders have started gathering near the spring by Big Rock. Thanks to the dedicated research of Dr. Joseph Bradley from the University of Louisville, who has been studying the behaviors of different species of salamanders.
Along the creek there is a long limestone wall, in which a spring is running out of a small cavity in the rock down to the creek. This spring provides suitable wet habitat for certain species of salamanders. There are many crevices and rocky areas used as refuge to take cover for these critters. This area also provides plenty of food for them as well. There are a number of insects and worms attracted to the area they can chow down on near the spring.
There are four distinct species that have been identified and monitored: Dusky salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus), Cave salamanders (Eurycea lucifuga), Zigzag salamanders (Plethodon dorsalis), and Midland mud salamanders (Pseudotriton montanus). These were all found in or directly around that spring issuing from the limestone wall. On the most active nights, Dr. Bradley found 80-100+ individuals of which the majority were dusky salamanders.
Behavior wise, dusky salamanders are very aggressive, whereas cave salamanders are somewhat passive. Dusky salamanders have also been directly tied to the spring, whereas other species could often be found near the spring, or around the vegetation and the limestone wall. It’s surprising to see so many salamanders due to how frequently people visit the park.
Cave salamanders are very good climbers, and thus do well around limestone formations where they can climb into cracks in the wall. However, Zigzag and mud salamanders were only active for a short period of time while researching. All these species are nocturnally active, hiding under cover, in burrows, or in crevices during the day.
Dusky salamanders and zigzag salamanders blend in very well with their environment. They are both some mixture of tan, brown, and gray. Cave and mud salamanders are quite the opposite, both being bright orange to red with black spots; this is “aposematic coloration,” meaning they advertise their bad taste to potential predators.
What all of these species share in common is they are plethodontid salamanders. A major unifying and interesting characteristic of this type of salamander is that they are lungless; gas exchange predominantly occurs across the skin, even though they are terrestrially active.
(Midland Mud Salamander)
Evidence has shown with the removal of Bush Honeysuckle, amphibian species numbers should increase over time. This could be due to the fact that honeysuckle is poisonous to a number of animals. There is still so much to learn about our new guests, but in the meantime we are happy to have our new aquatic friends, and they can stay as long as they want.