Spring Salamander

spring salamander_04_28 Powershot 366

This amphibian is found in Canada and the United States. Spring Salamanders are semi-aquatic, spending a majority of their time in springs, wet caves, and cool, clear mountain brooks. Spring Salamanders can also be found under stones and logs near stream edges.

spring salamander 182

This is one of the largest species of lungless salamanders and can reach about 8 inches in total length. It is usually salmon-pink to brown-pink with a few small, dark spots on the back and sides, usually forming a row along the sides.

spring salamander 177

Because they are lungless, and obtains oxygen through its skin, the Spring Salamander is limited to areas where there is adequate oxygen and moisture. Though is not confined to the water, however, and will sometimes leave its aquatic habitat and venture out on land in search of food.

spring salamander 036

As an adult, the Spring Salamander’s tail has a prominent, knife-like keel on the top that enables it to swim in swift-moving water. Adults also have toxic, skin secretions and red coloration that mimics more toxic species, for protection from predators.

spring salamander 035

It is primarily nocturnal. The Spring Salamander hunts at night for a wide variety of food consisting of insects, crustaceans, centipedes, millipedes, earthworms, snails, spiders, and occasionally small frogs and salamanders.

spring salamander 170

It was pretty cool to see several of these amphibians in the wild during my recent trip to Kentucky.

Third Eye Herp

Yellow Trout Lily

trout lily 025

A pair of brownish-mottled leaves (which resembles the colors of a Brook Trout) at the base of a stalk which bears a solitary, nodding flower, yellow on the inside and bronze on the outside, are the components of many, many Yellow Trout Lilies which carpets the forest floor at this time of year.

trout lily 039

Yellow Trout Lily is pollinated by ants and after a seed is planted, it may take up to seven years before the plant becomes mature enough to flower.

trout lily 038

It is a small plant, reaching only about six inches tall. Other common names for this plant are Adder’s Tongue, Fawn Lily and Dog-tooth Violet.

trout lily 046

The common name of Adder’s Tongue is in reference the appearance of the emerging stamens of the flower, which protrude like the tongue of a snake.

trout lily 036

Fawn Lily is a name given in regards to the plant’s two spotted leaves that to some look similar to the alert, upright ears of a fawn.

trout lily 060

The common name of Dog-tooth Violet is in reference to the flower’s underground elongated bulb shape. It is unfortunately misleading, because this plant is not a member of the violet family.

trout lily 053

The Yellow Trout Lily root (known as a corm) is an edible vegetable.  According to the International Health Exhibition held in London in 1884, the roots were ground into a material for making confectionary. The leaves are also edible and can be eaten raw and put into salads.

trout lily 048

The diverse array of common names for this plant are evidence of this plant’s widespread distribution throughout much of the eastern United States and of its distinctive appearance and characteristics.

Third Eye Herp

Margined Carrion Beetle

Margined Carrion Beetle 3056

In nature, not everything is as pleasing to the eye as a butterfly, nor does everything smell as sweet as wildflowers. There are aspects of natural history, although unpleasant to our human senses, that are critically important in the balance of nature.

Margined Carrion Beetle 3062

The Margined Carrion Beetle is an interesting and helpful insect. It gets its name from the fact that it eats and lays its eggs in carrion (dead animals).

Margined Carrion Beetle 027

Using its sense of smell, the insect can find a dead animal within hours of death at a distance of up to a mile and a half. It will then mate and lay its eggs on the carrion. Here’s what the larva look like after hatching from an egg, but before becoming an adult beetle.

Margined Carrion Beetle 008

Carrion beetles and other decomposers are important because they get rid of dead matter by eating it and breaking it down into smaller pieces that can be placed back into the ecosystem and used by other organisms.

Margined Carrion Beetle 033

They are also frequently associated with crime scene investigations, because they are used to substantiate and support timelines and help estimate the time of death of victims.

Third Eye Herp

Jefferson Salamander

jefferson salamander_1352

The Jefferson Salamander belongs to a group of amphibians known as mole salamanders, named because they spend most of their life underground. The only time you are likely to see them is now, when they are migrating to temporary pools in the woods to mate and lay eggs.

jefferson salamander 009

Egg masses contain 20-30 eggs are attached to fallen tree branches underwater. The time it takes for the eggs to hatch depends on water temperature and ranges from 2-8 weeks. The aquatic larvae complete metamorphosis in 2-3 months and like frog tadpoles, they go from an aquatic existence to a life lived on land. Here’s a newly metamorphosed individual that I found in July of last year.


This amphibian is usually dark gray and often has silver or blue specks on its sides. The secretive adults hide under stones or logs, in leaf litter and in burrows in hardwood forests with damp conditions. Around here they share their habitat with Spotted Salamanders, though they are much less common. They tend to be more slender than spotteds, but are about the same overall length (about 7 inches).

jefferson salamander 028

The Jefferson Salamander feeds on insects, spiders, earthworms, slugs, pillbugs and other invertebrates. Because the adult salamanders spend most of the time outside of the breeding season hidden, their exact feeding habits are not known. Ecologically, salamanders play important roles in the organization of many terrestrial and aquatic communities. They are increasingly being used as indicators of environmental heath.

jefferson salamander 025

But they have an additional value to humans in the form of medical research subjects. Salamanders have extraordinary ability to regenerate toes, feet and entire limbs – they are the only vertebrate that can do this. Understanding the basis for their limb and tissue regeneration could have significant implications for the field of medicine.

jefferson salamander 023

The Jefferson Salamander is yet another of nature’s mysteries, cloaked in dark coloration and living an underground lifestyle that we know almost nothing about. I’m lucky if a see one or two of these fine salamanders each year, and I was glad to come across one this week.

Third Eye Herp

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal 005

This small brightly colored duck caught my eye when I was visiting the bay area of California. The Cinnamon Teal is small, with bright rust colors on the male and duller brown plumage on the female. It lives in marshes and ponds, and feeds mostly on plants.

Cinnamon Teal_2857

Mating pair bonds are renewed each season, during the winter. Females attract the males by swimming in front of the desired mate. Cinnamon Teal are usually found in small flocks, comprising pairs of birds.

Cinnamon Teal_2854

They are very agile in flight. The birds make sudden and sharp turns while flying low and they take off to flight directly from water. Cinnamon Teal usually feed in shallow water where they scoop up floating plants, seeds and insects. They will also dive for food.

Cinnamon Teal_2862

It was neat to encounter this western species of duck that I have never seen before.

Third Eye Herp

Western Skink

Western Skink_2770

The Western Skink has a shiny appearance due to its smooth, glossy, rounded scales. It is brown with golden-yellow or cream stripes extending from its nose to its tail. Younger individuals have brilliant blue tails that become dull as they age.

Western Skink  010

Western Skinks readily autotomize (lose) their tails and the bright blue coloration found on juveniles may add to the wriggling tail’s distraction as the reptile makes an escape. They aren’t very large lizards, typically being 5 to 6 inches in total length.

Western Skink 021

Females exhibit parental care for their eggs. The skink will stay with the eggs, protecting them against predators, repairing the nest and possibly providing additional heat by basking and then returning to the nest.

western skink 007

They avoid can be found in a variety of habitats, including dry oak woodlands, on mountains with southern rock outcroppings and open grasslands where there is ample cover like rocks and logs.

Western Skink 018

Western Skinks can eat a wide variety of foods, including crickets, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, spiders and earthworms.

Western Skink 013

It is always a joy to come across one of these small wonders; and I frequently do when visiting the Golden State.

Third Eye Herp

Brown Garden Snail

This creature was introduced to California in the 1850s as a source of escargot. This species is native to the Mediterranean region and has adapted well to the Golden State.

snail 001

Brown Garden Snails live in habitats like gardens and parks made by man, as well as in coastal dunes and brushland. The Brown Garden Snail is a herbivore and feeds on a wide variety of plants. Most land snails are nocturnal, but after a rain storm they may come out of their hiding places during the day. They move with a gliding motion by means of a long flat muscular organ called a foot.

snail 134

The head bears four tentacles, the upper two of which have eye-like light sensors, and the lower two of which are smaller, are used for touch and smell. The tentacles can be retracted into the head. The mouth is located beneath the tentacles, and contains a rasp-like structure which the snail uses to scrape up food particles.

snail 006

Mucus, constantly secreted by glands in the foot, which facilitates movement and leaves a silvery, slimy trail. The shell may be either yellow or horn-colored with chestnut brown spiral bands which are interrupted by yellow flecks or streaks.

snail 130

This species is one of the best-known of all terrestrial molluscs and one of the most widespread land snail species in the world. Transported by humans, today it can be found in Northern America, Southern America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Third Eye Herp

Western Pond Turtle

western pond turtle 104

I haven’t had an “up close and personal” encounter with a Western Pond Turtle in 10 years, so it was pretty exciting to come across this one this week.

western pond turtle 076

This is the only freshwater turtle native to California. Their preferred habitat consists of calm waters, such as streams or pools, with vegetated banks and basking sites, which are usually rocks or logs.

western pond turtle 083

These turtles are wary and secretive. When disturbed, they seek cover in water, diving beneath the surface and hiding in submerged vegetation. Their brown color makes them difficult to see at the bottom of a pond or stream.

western pond turtle 051

Habitat loss and fragmentation are threats to Western Pond Turtles. Development of housing, roads and eliminating waterways has taken a toll on this species. It has been further challenged by non-native predators and crowding by non-native turtle species.

western pond turtle 084s

The Western Pond Turtle is a “species of special concern,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and are declining rapidly throughout the west. It was one of the many highlights of my trip to the Golden State to spend some time observing this reptile in the wild.

Third Eye Herp

Northern Elephant Seal

elephant seal 147

Renowned for their long distance migrations and their incredible diving abilities, Northern Elephant Seals are named because of the long elephant-like noses of males.

elephant seal 156

The many that I saw at Año Nuevo State Reserve today were females with their offspring, which were born earlier this year.

elephant seals 131

Northern Elephant Seals were almost hunted to extinction for the oil that could be rendered from their blubber. By 1892, only 50 to 100 individuals were left. In 1922 the Mexican government gave protected status to Northern Elephant Seals and the US government followed suit a few years later.

elephant seal 123

These are not small animals. Males, known as bulls, range from fourteen to sixteen feet long and weigh up to 2-1/2 tons. At sea, they can stay underwater for 20 minutes and dive to a depth of 1,000 to 2,000 feet in search of their food: rays, skates, squid and small sharks.

elephant seal 140

The pups are very curious and rather awkward. They are somewhat afraid of the water at first. But they learn quickly, spending more and more time swimming about. Then, during the last weeks of April, they go out to sea one by one.

Third Eye Herp

Pacific Clubtail

Pacific Clubtail_2793

This dragonfly is at home near creeks in the mountains. It is an early flier, only seen as an adult in Spring, when males sit on rocks in the streams and chase females, or defend their territories against other males. Clubtail dragonflies are named for the expanded tip of their tails, which is more exaggerated in males.

Pacific Clubtail 026

An interesting feature of Pacific Clubtail is that the younger individuals are a lot brighter in color than mature adults. Immature males are bright yellow, but over time their colors become much more subdued.

Pacific Clubtail 036

They are important predators that eat mosquitoes and other small insects. Nearly all of the dragonfly’s head is eye, so they have incredible vision that encompasses almost every angle except right behind them.

Pacific Clubtail 055

Pacific Clubtails are expert fliers. They can fly straight up and down, hover like a helicopter and even mate mid-air. If they can’t fly, they’ll starve because they only eat prey they catch while flying.

Pacific Clubtail 047

Dragonflies were some of the first winged insects to evolve, some 300 million years ago. Modern dragonflies have wingspans of only two to five inches, but fossil dragonflies have been found with wingspans of up to two feet.

Third Eye Herp