MR. JONATHAN WILSON
Welcome back to "Metro Connection," I'm Jonathan Wilson, in this week or Rebecca Sheir. And today we're getting out of dodge and heading out to some of the more rural parts of our region with a show we're calling "Town and Country." And there aren't many places around these parts that are more rural or remote then the spot we're headed to next, Finzel Swamp in western Maryland. Lauren Landau bought some rain boots and went to Finzel earlier this week on Earth Day to search for creatures that thrive in wet, swampy spots, salamanders.
MS. LAUREN LANDAU
It's overcast and drizzling when I arrive at Finzel Swamp. It's a perfect day, if you're hunting for salamanders.
MS. DEBORAH LANDAU
So we're going to start off in this small pond here, over on the west side.
Deborah Landau, no relation, is the Conservation Ecologist at the Maryland-D.C. Chapter of the Nature Conservancy which protects this land.
This is a wonderful place to visit, there's lots of really nice trails. It's very accessible. And right by the parking area, we've got this nice little pond with these wonderful trees around it, so it's nice and cool and we'll see what we can find.
Among those taking part in today's hunt is Kim Terrell, a wildlife biologist at the Smithsonian National Zoo. She says, Finzel Swamp and the Appalachian Mountains, in general, are a hot spot for amphibians like salamanders.
MS. KIM TERRELL
We have more salamander diversity here in Appalachia than anywhere else in the world. And a lot of those species belong to the Plethodontidae family, which are the lung-less salamanders, which we will definitely find today.
Do you know what percentage that is? How many of the various kinds of known salamanders live in this region?
It's about 14 percent which doesn't sound like a lot, but for any one area, that's huge.
Kim tells us to grab a net and see what we can find.
Scoop at anything, get some leaf litter in there and then sort through the leaf litter. It's a mucky mess but, oh, look at this, very first try. This is crawling around amongst the dirt and the leaf litter, is a olive green salamander with bright red spots. And this is an eastern newt. These guys are amazing little creatures for a number of reasons. They are one of the only animals in the world that can re-grow bits of eye and brain tissue. And because of this, they are a major model for biomedical research for tissue regeneration in humans.
Kim is excited by this early find but she's got more salamanders she's hoping to see today.
What I'm really excited about are long-tailed salamanders, which are here and they're absolutely gorgeous. And that is my mission for today, is to show you a long-tailed salamander.
One salamander we're unlikely to see on this expedition is a species known as the Hellbender.
So Hellbenders are incredible salamanders. They are the largest salamander in North America. They can grow up to almost two and a half feet long. And they used to be pretty common in Maryland, but now they are barely hanging on, only in Garrett County, in extreme western Maryland. The major issue that this species is facing is sedimentation or the accumulation of dirt in their streams. So because they live in the water and they breathe through their skin, they need really clean, clear water. If the water is too sedimented or too filled with dirt, it makes it difficult for them to breath.
She says other salamanders are also struggling to survive as the climate changes.
When the region becomes warmer and dryer, a lot of these species will lose a lot of habitat. And especially for salamanders that live on the top of a mountain, they can't move up in elevation. You know, they have no where left to go.
And I understand that some of these salamanders aren't just losing their habitats, they're losing body mass. Can you go into that a bit?
Right, so there was a study that just came out, out of Karen Lips' lab at University of Maryland, showing that salamanders have become smaller over the past couple of decades as the climate has warmed. And the theory behind that is that, as their habitats became warmer, they became smaller in order to conserve energy. Because salamanders are cold blooded or ectothermic, so they can't control their body temperature. So as their environment becomes warmer, their bodies become warmer and their metabolism increases. So a possible way to conserve your energy is to have a smaller body.
After finding a few more red spotted newts, we ditched the nets and start flipping over rocks and logs, looking for moist spots that might harbor salamanders. After a few tries, Kim hits the jackpot.
Oh, my God, it's a long-tailed salamander.
Get it, get it, get it.
After a brief, frantic struggle, Kim extracts the yellow salamanders from the muddy water and even finds a few nickel sized egg sacks. Later, when we decide it's time to head back, she's still glowing.
The highlights for me was definitely turning over a rock and finding four long-tailed salamanders, all right on top of each other. I was hoping to find one today and we got four, so that was pretty incredible.
She says she could spend all day hunting for salamanders, and with the biodiversity that Finzel Swamp has to offer, ever excursion is a new adventure. I'm Lauren Landau.
To see photos from Lauren's trip to Finzel Swamp or find out why 2014 is being called the year of the salamander, head to our website, metroconnection.org.
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