It’s hard for me to choose a favorite salamander–I really just love them all. But the four-toed salamander has a special place in my heart. It’s the smallest salamander in New York, generally around 2-3 inches full grown, and it has very specific habitat requirements. It has developed a unique breeding strategy, preferring to lay its eggs in moss hanging a few inches above water. When the tadpoles hatch, they drop into the water. The females are the only ones that migrate to the water in the spring to lay eggs, the actual mating having taken place in the fall. I kept reading this and puzzling over it–how can they mate in the fall and lay eggs in the spring, I wondered. You don’t gestate for six months AND lay eggs. But this being amphibians we’re talking about, the females actually pick up spermatophores from the males in the fall and apparently just chill with them until they’re ready to lay eggs.
I found a trail in Pound Ridge last year that has a lot of four-toed salamanders, and discovered a new spot here in Katonah over the weekend. I’m getting a better sense of what to look for in the terrain. I am kind of dying to find a nest. They can nest singly, or form a communal nest with lots of eggs and just one female brooding. They’re in the moss, or potentially another cozy spot like a rotting log, above the water. I really want to see this in person but I have no idea how to look without tearing up the habitat. I am a zealous herper, but I always put logs back just the way they were, and back off if a log is too difficult to move or is falling apart.
When you first see a four-toed salamander, it’s possible to not recognize them at first. Their back can be reddish brown, and similar enough to the ubiquitous red-backed salamander, that you might mistake it at first glance. If, however, you get a belly-first view, there is no doubt!
In New York, females are probably laying their eggs in April, then they’ll take one to two months to hatch. So this is the time to gently do a bit of exploring!