The next time you take your kids or grandkids for a trek through your favourite Ontario provincial park, stay on the lookout for salamanders. Some of these wondrous little amphibians are on the endangered species list so if you see one skulking through your park, snap a selfie and send it to Ontario Nature, or download a free app at ontarionature.org/atlas. Your scientific discovery could help scientists understand more about why these fascinating creatures are disappearing.
According to a study done by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, amphibians such as salamanders, frogs and toads are experiencing one of the biggest declines globally. In fact, 41 percent of amphibians worldwide are endangered or threatened, including here in Ontario.
“What we’ve been noticing in North America is a really large decline in the spatial ranges of these amphibians,” says Tanya Pulfer, a biologist and citizen science coordinator with Ontario Nature. “So the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, or PARC, designated this year as the Year of the Salamander to try and increase our knowledge, understanding and awareness of salamanders, what they represent and what it is that we are seeing.”
What is a Salamander, you ask?
Almost every little kid has held one these slippery, slithery amphibians in their hands. As amphibians they spend the first half of their life in water breathing through gills and then they hit the dirt, breathing through their lungs to live on land.
Salamanders look like small little lizards, but instead of scales they have almost a gelatinous look to their skin. Depending on the species they have various colouring and patterns. Four types of salamanders are at risk of disappearing from Ontario while two types of salamanders are no longer found in Ontario at all.
- Allegheny Mountain Dusky Salamander – Endangered
- Jefferson Salamander – Endangered
- Northern Dusky Salamander – Endangered
- Small-mouthed Salamander – Endangered
The two species that are no longer found in Ontario are the Eastern Tiger Salamander and the Spring Salamander.
Why should you care?
“Salamanders are a great part of the food chain,” says Pulfer. “They eat a lot of insects and are often found in forest or stream ecosystems, at least the ones that are in Ontario. The reason why this is important is that forests make up the majority of all habitats here in the province making salamander populations a great indicator of overall forest health.”
What’s being done?
In order to stem the tide of the decline in salamanders and other amphibious species, Ontario Nature has created a new Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas program in partnership with the Eastern Ontario Model Forest, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Natural Heritage Information Centre and other government agencies and non-governmental organizations, including Ontario Parks.
The idea behind the atlas program is to build a database of salamanders in Ontario, find out where they are and how the population is doing. By collecting submissions from the public, carrying out field surveys and amalgamating existing databases, experts can try to piece together the mystery behind this unfortunate decline.
“This virtual atlas is one of the best conservation tools we have for the conservation of reptiles and amphibians. By having a large number of people contributing to it we can assess what species needs conservation attention and what ones don’t. Any contribution would be appreciated and by doing so you’ll be helping these species in Ontario.”
For more information on the atlas and how you can help, visit ontarionature.org. Visit the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry website for more information about all species at risk in Ontario.