By: Karlee May, Digital Media Coordinator
The Jefferson Salamander lays its eggs under water on twigs or shrub stems. Depending on the warmth of the weather, the eggs will hatch a few weeks to a month later. When the eggs hatch, the tadpole larvae live under water in the pond. The larvae breathe through external gills until they mature and grow lungs and transition to life on land. While they grow in the pond, the salamanders eat anything that fits in their mouths like insects and smaller larvae. Yes, there is cannibalistic activity in the vernal pools. If you’re a runt in a vernal pool, you’re in danger of becoming lunch.
Since vernal pools are temporary, the pressure is on the salamanders to rapidly mature. ‘Jeffies, a nickname for the beloved amphibians, must mature before the pond dries up. They must develop lungs before the water dries and they must wander into the forest. Very little is known but it is speculated that the salamanders spend up to five years maturing in the forest before they breed.
As you can see, the habitat and the state of the habitat is critical to the mortality rate of the Jeffies. Even though the salamander will climb over snow drifts in a single-minded effort to reach its preferred breeding pond, the Jeffies are ironically delicate and sensitive to change in its habitat. They are happiest outside. The salamanders are stubborn and will continuously return to the same pond year after year. They do not have the cognitive ability to recognize that their pond has been moved, or the path has been blocked. The Jeffy believes it can crawl through an obstacle to its favoured mating spot. Jefferson Salamanders have very specific habitat needs and will not survive in captivity. They need vernal pools to lay their eggs and mature, and they need forests to live during the rest of the year.
So, Conservation Halton works around the Jefferson Salamander. After fieldwork and data collection, King Road in Burlington is closed for a few weeks of the year to protect the Jeffies during their mating season. The endangered species lives on one side of the road during the year, and then migrate across the road to the breeding pond. The Jefferson Salamander is an important creature for the health of the forests, and, after research into other mitigatory measures, closing King Road made the most sense.
If a salamander finds its way into your home, move it into a wooden area, either under leaf litter or near a log. Otherwise, do not handle a salamander at all as any lotions or soaps on your hands can poison it through skin absorption.