This autumn morning was damp and a brisk west wind carried the calling geese. A little rain was on the way maybe, so I wanted to saw up a few logs for firewood. Before starting the saw I rolled the logs just where I wanted them, to make the job a little quicker.
Under one of the logs was a small red- bellied snake, all curled up like a mini garden hose. Putting the snake down in the tall grass I rolled over another log. There's always a tiny twinge of excitement whenever I roll over a log or stone. You never know what might be hiding underneath.
Under the next log was a fat toad cricket. Also, under a piece of loose bark, was a large hard-shelled millipede.
To my surprise, under the last log was a pair of beautiful blue-spotted salamanders. Itís always a treat to see these little voyagers of the forest's floor. They are seldom seen, always staying hidden under the fallen leaves or under a log or rock. They search through decaying and composted leaves for small insects, worms and spiders.
Salamanders, like snakes and lizards are quiet creatures, not having much for a voice. Unlike their reptile cousins, the salamanders have four unclawed toes rather than five and unlike a lizard's scaly skin, the skin of a salamander is smooth, like a frog's. These amazing amphibians are able to regrow a lost tail or toe.
There are 83 species of salamanders in North America compared with 3 kinds in Africa and none in Australia. I have found several kinds in Wisconsin and the blue-spotted salamander being the most common seen here in the Kickapoo Valley of the southwest part of Wisconsin.
The blue-spotted salamander will lay her eggs in a jelly envelope that is deposited in the still waters of a pond or backwater. The tiny black eggs may look like those of a frog but the frog's eggs are not enclosed in a jelly membrane.
Frogs and salamanders are a very special part of the natural world. They need a clean healthy environment to live in and to reproduce in. When populations of frogs and salamanders start to disappear something is very wrong. Sadly this is happening all across the U.S.
The fall is my favorite time to look under rotted logs and rocks. It's the best time to see salamanders. They also like to hide under old boards, trash cans or almost anything they can crawl under. Often they may slide into a window well to the basement and can't get out. If they are lucky they find their way through a crack and into the basement. If you do find one in the basement, rest assured they are harmless, just pick them up and take them outside. This is a time when wildlife is clinging to the life-giving warmth of summer. Soon many amphibians, reptiles and insects will be in hibernation for the winter. When the insects stop singing at night itís because the frost has set them back. The animals that eat insects to survive also need to change their living conditions.
There has been four hard frosts to date here where I live. The one last night left the garden and lawn white, so I would be surprised to hear any crickets tonight. The frost has changed the leaves to golden yellow, bright orange and rich red. These mountains are ablaze with the colors of fall. What better time than now to take a walk down nature's trail. Let yourself be outside at one with the real world.
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