Silly salamanders are always smiling

Karen Wils photo A blue spotted salamander hides in his leafy home.

ESCANABA — Amphibians are always smiling, or so it seems.

The frogs, toads and salamanders of Upper Michigan are a happy lot.

And they should be because they dwell in the most awesome wetlands, lakes, ponds and forests in the Northwoods.

Amphibian means “double life.” These cute little creatures start their life out swimming in the water. As they mature and grow, they develop their land legs.

Summer adventures in the U.P. have a lot of amphibians to offer.

I think secretly, we humans are jealous of frogs, toads and salamanders. It seems as soon as the snow melts, we are there, infringing on their wetland territory.

We come with boats, canoes, kayaks and campers. We love the water’s edge too.

Besides the wonderful lakes and rivers we swim, fish and recreate around, Upper Michigan has tons of vernal ponds, too. Vernal ponds are small pools of water in the woodlands. They are created by melting snow and spring rains. They usually dry up in the summertime. My dad called vernal ponds “slough holes.”

When I was a youngster, I thought vernal ponds were just ugly, big overgrown puddles. They were breeding places for mosquitoes.

Now after many years of watching wildlife, I’ve come to understand the importance of vernal ponds.

They are mini nurseries for a myriad of wild creatures and wild plant life.

The silly salamanders are one of my favorites that come from these ponds. Eight species of salamanders live in Michigan. Some, like the mud puppy, spend their entire life in the water. Others like the spotted salamanders can live around twenty years on land.

To some people salamanders are just creepy crawlers. But most youngsters and the young at heart find the salamanders fascinating and funny. I remember my siblings and I coming across salamanders when we helped Dad with firewood at camp. After a pile of seasoned (dried) maple was loaded into the truck, there on the ground where the woodpile had been was often a surprise.

The little red backed salamanders wiggled away like a miniature dinosaur.

When my kids were young, they too spent hours playing by the river or in the woods and seeing a silly salamander was the highlight of the day.

Salamanders smile a lot because they feast on mosquitoes and there’re surely plenty of them in the U.P. The leaf litter and the mossy ground where salamanders live is decorated with all sorts of lovely wildflowers. Salamanders are mostly active at night when the cool moonlight kisses the earth.

Marquette Michigan has made the happy-go-lucky salamander even happier by protecting the blue spotted salamander as they migrate in the spring time across Presque Isle Park.

Salamanders, although they are seldom seen, are important because they eat many insects and they are important to the food chain too because other wildlife like grouse love to eat salamanders.

Amphibians are awesome. You just can’t help but smile back at them.


Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.


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