Outings > Day Hikes

What in the world is an Ensatina?

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Things seem a little slow on the forum, so I thought I'd share a day hike I did this weekend.

When people think herpetology, they immediately picture snakes.  But there are many spectacular herps in the world that are not snakes.

This article talks about finding these amazing creatures.


What interesting non-snake herps do you find in your area?

- Woodsorrel


My wife and I live on a small farm in a relatively dry area (15" annual rainfall).  We flood irrigate with ditch water in the summer months.  There are three wet areas on the farm.  One is a cattail marsh below the reservoir dam.  Another is a marshy area along the upstream region of the reservoir where cattails have grown out into the water and then filled in with soil and vegetation.  The third is a natural spring that seeps a bit of water and it is enough to have a few cattails grow in the area and create a marshy area.  This one is very small, about ten feet wide and 100 feet long and in a dry year it can stop seeping.  I have not gone looking for Salamanders in these places but in walking through them, doing maintenance work, and sometimes sitting for a time hunting deer or fishing for bass in the small creek that runs through the marsh I have never seen one.  I should add that I have never looked for one either. I think the only non-snake herps we have are frogs and toads.  I don't know much about toads but only see one kind.  There are two kinds of frogs.  One that I would call a leopard frog (they have a lot of spots) and the other that is just a regular old green color and small. 
The three areas and adjacent land we have on the place are home to lots of other creatures.  One may find  three species of turtles, muskrats, beaver, deer, turkey, coyotes, raccoons beyond count, fox, bobcats, skunks, mountain lions, cotton tail and jack rabbits, an occasional pronghorn antelope, sharptail grouse, ducks, geese, pheasants, Hungarian partridge,  pelicans and other water birds including blue herons and an occasional plover. There might be Salamanders living under rocks or downed parts of trees in the marsh areas.  I had not thought much about this until your post.  This area is cattle and sheep raising country and the farm has been used for that activity for over 120 years.  I suppose not seeing any Salamanders could be due to either the large number of things that might eat them or to the seasonal occupation of the land by cattle and sheep which perhaps the amphibians could not tolerate.  We will find out next Spring.   

Pete Bog:
    I grew up in a peat bog in northern Minnesota, we were surrounded by wetlands. we lived on a little rise of land surrounded by marsh, cattails, water lilies and lots of mosquitos. I saw 1 (one) salamander in all the years I lived there. And it was a puny little skinny thing. Frogs of many kinds and two or three different snakes, but salamanders were almost non existent.
    Thirty years ago we moved into North Dakota. The climate has much more in common with Western South Dakota than it does with Minnesota.  Mostly dry, assorted water potholes of 1/2 to 5 acres in size. Salamanders were numerous. Hundreds of them on the roads in the morning. I found they would eat mosquitos and did no other harm so I considered them a good thing. My neighbor on the other hand, must have seen them differently. One morning after a rain I could see his tracks in the mud, weaving to hit every salamander he could on his way into work.
   In the late afternoon, as I would walk up to the house after work, there would be several on the footpath. Salamanders like to look big and act tough with an "I'm gonna kick your butt!" attitude. They curl tight sideways and hike their tail up into the air. "Wanna fight?" they seemed to be saying. I would hover my boot over them in a counter threat and about 1 out of a hundred would squeak. I found out later that a squeaker is actually pretty rare.
   Over the 30 years we've been here, we have had a few dogs. Each of them has to try and kill a salamander. Each and every one of them decided it was a very bad idea. Salamanders have no teeth, but they secrete a substance from their skin that makes dogs foam at the mouth something fierce. One sample is all it usually take for the dogs to swear off salamanders.
   Since salamanders have no teeth, they are safe to pick up. Some people keep them as pets. One afternoon, after work,  there was a particularly large one on the pathway to the house, so I picked it up to show the kids. After my little show and tell to the kids I took it outside and released it to eat more mosquitos. I then went in and sat down to await the supper the wife was cooking. As I waited I went through the days mail and started to read a magazine that had come that day. Not thinking, I licked a finger to help turn the pages of the magazine. !!!!!! WHAT THE xxxxxx!!. My tongue immediately went numb where my finger had touched it. And it stayed numb for several minutes. Teach me not to wash my hands after handling a salamander. Now I know what the dogs know. DaXX! Dumb adz move on my part.
   As the years have gone by, the number of salamanders and frogs have steadily decreased. I blame the herbicides and insecticides used on the crops which surround us. I have no proof but I want to blame something for the loss. Spring evenings used to be so noisy with the frogs singing; we rarely see a salamander any more and it's kind of sad.
  Well, that's my two cents worth.

Wsdstan, I'd be interested to know what you find. 

It might be fun to do some research to see what may live on the farm.  That way, you'll have an idea where to look and what they might look like when you see them.  :)

Amphibians are an indicator species.  So finding them may give you an idea about the quality of the water in different parts of the farm and the habitat surrounding it.  It would be an interesting exercise to see if your eyes can tell you where the amphibians are likely to be hanging out. 

- Woodsorrel

I think this Spring and into the summer I will put out some boards in the marsh and give them something to hide under if they are there.  What Pete says about the liquid they secrete or give off being bitter to other animals may be a good thing if there are any around here.  Anyway if I find some I will take a picture and let you know.

I remember when I lived in Colorado and was a kid about 12 or so we would catch them in the crawl space of one of the neighbors houses because it was damp down there.  They had an outside access and when you lifted it up to go under the house there would usually be a couple of them in sight.  Hadn't thought about that for a long time.


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