05 November 2011

Safe Travels

In the last month, the shallow well that had provided Lindsay, Bootypants, and me with water at our home since we moved here in 2007 began to go dry.  This week, we had a new well drilled that should provide us with water for a long, long time.  What does this topic have to do with this blog, you ask?

Our old well pit
Our old well was located in a pit behind our house, covered by a wooden board.  When we first moved into our house, we looked in our well pit and were excited to find five Eastern Tiger Salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum).  Thinking I was helping them, I moved three to our pond.  I then read somewhere that this species can thrive in well pits, so I left two of them in the pit.  They must have eaten well for the last four years, because when I removed the board from the pit this week the two salamanders still looked quite healthy.  Looking back at some notes I had taken on these salamanders a few years ago, I was reminded that I once saw one take a Common Pill Bug (Armadillidium vulgare).  In addition to insects, they also commonly eat worms, and large adults have been known to eat small frogs and even baby mice.

Eastern Tiger Salamanders in the well pit (one is beneath the PVC; the other is on the ground in the upper right of the pit (click on photo to enlarge)
Knowing that our well pit would be abandoned and that the drilling company would need to be in the pit to cap the old well, I decided that it was time to move the last two salamanders out of the pit this week.

Eastern Tiger Salamander in well pit
I climbed down into the pit and removed the salamanders from what possibly was the only home they had ever known.  Eastern Tiger Salamanders are known to occur throughout Indiana.  There are several subspecies known from North America; as a species, Tiger Salamanders are known from most of the United States, with the exception of the Appalachians and the lower Mississippi valley.  The subspecies that we have in Indiana (subsp. tigrinum) is known from New York to Florida and west to Texas.

The last two Eastern Tiger Salamanders have been removed from the well pit
Eastern Tiger Salamanders are found in forests and prairies, usually near wetlands or ponds.  Although they require ponds for breeding, this species spends much of its life, especially as an adult, in uplands.  It seems to require loose soils, as its habits are to burrow into the ground or to use the burrow of another small animal.  Unlike many other salamander species, the Eastern Tiger Salamander can persist in areas with heavy anthropogenic influences, such as in cities and in farmland, so long as they have adequate breeding habitat.

One of the salamanders had a more marbled appearance
The two Eastern Tiger Salamander individuals looked quite a bit different, as seen above and below.  One was much more marbled, whereas the other was somewhat spotted. 

The other salamander had a more spotted appearance
So, I took the two salamanders to an area on our property near our pond.  We don't really have loose soil, so I put them near some downed wood so that they would at least have cover.  When I temporarily put them in the lawn for photos, they quickly began to burrow in, and were difficult to get out.  I'm hoping that they quickly burrowed in where I released them as well.  As soon as I walked away, I thought to myself, "that might have been a bad idea... that sure looked like a good spot for garter snakes."

A final look
Now, I can only hope for the best for them.  Good luck, salamanders.


Fire Breathers said...

Hi Scott,

So what happened to the 3 you took out & placeD into the pond?

The pit looks amazingly clean. Doesn't seem to have anything in there 'cept the 'manders, not even leaf debris & the omnipresent cobwebs! Do you clean it regularly?

Scott Namestnik said...

Hi FB. I've never seen the three salamanders I put near the pond years ago. I can only hope that they are safe, somewhere.

I've never cleaned the pit. The board shown covering it in the first photo does a good job of keeping out debris. There are a few spiders, some insects, and worms, but that's it. Well, that was it, until now. When our new well was installed, we were left with a large pile of dirt, concrete rubble, boulders, glass, bricks, tree roots, etc. They capped the old well pipes and said that we could fill the pit. I've begun filling it with this pile and plan to bring it up to the surrounding grade.