Spotted Salamander Biology and Ecology - What it looks like and what it does
The spotted salamander is a relatively large mole salamander with 2 or 3 large yellow spots running from the head all the way down the tail. They live in moist mixed, coniferous, and deciduous forests all throughout the eastern United States and southern Canada. Adults spend most of their time out of sight under rocks and logs, or underground where they eat invertebrates like worms, mollusks, spiders, or grubs. Though they spend much of their lives hidden away, each spring they make a spectacular appearance, migrating en masse to breed in ephemeral, fish free wetlands like vernal pools.
On rainy spring nights, A. maculatum emerge from their underground homes and venture across the forest floor to the pond of their birth, some traveling several hundred meters by the same route year-after-year! The adults hang out at the ponds for a few days, males drop spermatophores which the female uses to fertilize her eggs. The jelly-like egg masses incubate in the pools for 4-6 weeks, and this is the really cool part. Living in the egg is a symbiotic algae called Oophila amblystomatis (Oophila means “egg loving”)! This is a mutualistic relationship, where the algae gets nitrogen rich “fertilizer” from the embryo’s waste, and the developing salamander gets energy from the algae’s photosynthesis. The really incredible thing is that the algae cells aren’t just in the egg’s coating, they are in the developing embryo itself - a photosynthetic salamander!! Isn’t nature amazing!!
When the eggs hatch the larvae are fully aquatic, breathing with feathery gills, and spend a few months in the ponds eating small invertebrates like cladocerans and copepods. As the pools are beginning to dry up in late summer or early fall, the larvae complete their transformation into adult salamanders and venture out into the forests to find burrows of their own, only to return a year or two later. Ah, the circle of life!