Last updated: January 14. 2014 6:00PM - 622 Views

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Matt Echelberry

Inquirer Reporter

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) has designated 2014 as the “Year of the Salamander” to promote education, research and conservation for the more than 600 species of salamanders in the world.

The Crawford Park District is helping with this worldwide effort by hosting a variety of salamander-themed events throughout the year. On Jan. 11, it was only fitting to have a Salamander Kick-off Party.

Park Naturalist Josh Dyer gave a presentation on salamanders while patrons played Bingo, as part of the presentation.

Dyer explained that he got involved with salamanders about five years ago. Ohio State University was working on a book called “Amphibians of Ohio” and he provided Crawford County data on both amphibians and reptiles. Through his study, he became attached to salamanders.

Although it is similar to a lizard in appearance, the salamander is in the amphibian family. Like frogs and toads, it breathes and absorbs water through its skin and must stay moist.

“If you took all the animals with a backbone in any given forest, salamanders would outweigh all of them,” Dyer said. “There are a lot of them out there, but they are very secretive.”

However, the salamander population is declining due to habitat destruction. In Crawford County, for example, only 11 percent of the land area is wooded to provide a proper habitat. Heckert State Nature Preserve (located on State Route 19) is one area. The Park District is also looking at an area at the Daughmer State Nature Preserve as a breeding ground.

So why is it important to save them? According to Dyer, salamanders can regrow their limbs and tails. Scientists are researching this ability in order to apply it to human medicine, to benefit those who have lost fingers and limbs.

In his presentation, Dyer showed how the different species have some notably different traits, sizes, behaviors and habitats. The Eastern Red-backed Salamander is the most common species in Crawford County. It has a small body and typically lives under rocks and logs.

Throughout their life cycle, salamanders usually live both on land and in the water. Two salamanders in Ohio that live strictly in the water are the Mudpuppy and the Eastern Hellbender. Both are to be added to the endangered species list, and fracking could further destroy their habitat if it is done in Ohio.

The Nature Center once temporarily had an Eastern Hellbender on site. Dyer reported that it measured two feet long and was 75-years-old.

Most salamanders emit a mucous that is toxic to most animals. The Eastern Newt, which has an orange-red skin color, is the most toxic salamander in Ohio—but don’t worry, it is not found in Crawford County.

Mole Mutt Salamanders can breed with other species of salamanders. One Mole Mutt can contain as many as five different species, and takes on various genetic traits. The only way to identify them is through genetic testing.

Dyer also told a story about two Tiger Salamanders he captured that were accidentally left outside overnight. They froze, but did come back to life after they were thawed out, much like some types of frogs.

After prizes were handed out to the Bingo winners, some of the kids in attendance played “Pin the Tail on the Salamander.”

Through many human-induced threats, salamander populations are declining worldwide. The Crawford Park District will continue having salamander events throughout the year. On Jan. 21, researchers from OSU will be at the Nature Center to discuss their research from three years of studying Crawford County species.

For more information, contact the Park District at 419-683-9000 or visit www.crawfordparkdistrict.org.

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