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March is SALAMANDER month

Updated: Mar 15

It's SALAMANDER MONTH here at Calgary Wildlife, a time to delve into the watery and not so watery, world of Alberta's elusive tailed amphibians!




Did you know that Alberta is home to two different species of salamanders?


It's true! While they are quite elusive and rarely seen, Alberta is home to both the Long-toed Salamander and the Western Tiger Salamander. More on both species to come.



One of the most interesting physical features about salamanders is their larvae development stage. At first glance salamander larvae look similar to frog tadpoles, but on closer inspection you can see that they are slimmer than frog tadpoles, have flattened heads and most notably have feathery external gills - a respiratory organ located on either side of the head.




Stay tuned all this month as we explore the differences between Alberta's salamander species and their unexpected place as shapers of the ecosystem through their interconnections with plants, animals, and soil.




 


For our second SALAMANDER MONTH post, let's explore the similarities and differences between Alberta's two salamander species.





Long-toed salamanders are mostly brownish-grey to black with a yellow or olive-green stripe (can be blotchy) from their head to the tip of their tail, fine white or bluish flecks can be seen on their sides and legs, and their longest toe on their hind foot is noticeably longer than their other toes.


Their body length can reach up to 15cm and they can be found within mountain passes and associated river valleys along the front range of the Rocky Mountains. At higher altitudes, they can also be found further east into the foothills and Peace River Valley.





Tiger salamanders base colour can be yellow-brown, grey, olive-green to black with a series of dark spots or stripes covering their bodies, creating a pattern that looks very net-like. But sometimes their patterning can get so connected that their colouring starts to look uniform. Their body length can reach up to 25cm (almost double the size of the long-toed salamanders) and their body shape is broad and flat.


Tiger salamanders are widely distributed in the southern and east-central portions of Alberta in a variety of habitats as long as the soil is suitable for burrowing. They are most often found along the front ranges of the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Alberta.





Both species of salamanders lay eggs singularly or in small clusters and their larva share the unique middle development stage trait of three feathery external gills on either side of the head. However the longest gill stalk is shorter than the length of the head in long-toed salamanders and the same length or longer in tiger salamanders. While their feathery gills resemble those of the popular pet axolotls, salamander larva will lose their feathery gills as they continue to develop into adulthood.


For our final SALAMANDER MONTH post we will explore the unexpected place these amphibians have as shapers of the ecosystem through their interconnections with plants, animals, and soil and what we can do to help them stay wild.




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