Editor’s Note: The following was written by Torry Nergart, the Conservation Easement manager for Conserving Carolina, a local land trust working in Transylvania, Henderson and Polk counties. In its 26-year history, Conserving Carolina has protected over 45,000 acres in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains.
Fall in Transylvania County brings opportunities to view wildlife, as some animals are either on the move, or making moves of their own, such as laying eggs or rearing their young. One such animal, the Green Salamander (Aeneides aeneus) makes its home in Transylvania County, usually hidden away for most of the year. During the fall, scientists have the opportunity to observe this amphibian as it comes from the forest onto rock outcrops dotted throughout the woods.
Since we are here in a temperate rain forest, it is no wonder we have an incredible array of salamander species. In fact, our area is a true “hotspot” for salamander diversity compared to the rest of the world. The high amount of rainfall and large swaths of protected land allow many species to thrive. The Green Salamander is an excellent example of specialization, using only rock crevices of certain size and humidity (a “Goldilocks” zone for the animal) to lay its eggs and rear the young. Too big a crevice, and other animals like slugs or crickets will move in. Too wet, like beside a waterfall, and the rock won’t work.
Several populations of Green Salamanders have been located on land that Conserving Carolina has helped protect. Our work to add on to DuPont State Recreational Forest has yielded many new records for this species. The salamander has also been found on privately owned conservation easement lands in Cedar Mountain, Blue Ridge, Rich Mountain, Bohaney, Brevard, Little River and Sapphire. Conserving Carolina partners with biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to study this animal, both to increase the understanding of the natural world and to seek legal designation. Currently, the Green Salamander is named as an N.C. State endangered species and as a Federal Species of Concern. Since the amphibian is so cryptic, and hard to find most of the year, our understanding of it is ongoing. Citizen scientists, volunteers, applied biologists and research scientists are all cooperating to learn more.
One thing that has always amazed me about the Green Salamander is how it is a deep hidden layer within so many layers of life. Under a dark and green canopy of trees lie house-sized boulders, covered in lichens and mosses. There, hidden away in a little crack hardly anyone would ever think to look for, is a creature so well adapted to our temperate forests. Its life holds so many secrets about how it interacts with its world, how it lives a life seemingly so removed from ours, that it has been a true pleasure to explore how our lives are interconnected. In all ways, be encouraged by this little salamander to explore your world. You will find surprises in the most unexpected places.
For more information about all local activities, go to www.transylvaniaexplorer.com.