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The Herps of La Crosse

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Blue-Spotted Salamander

(Ambystoma laterale)

        Description: Blue-Spotted Salamanders are small to medium sized salamanders that attain adult lengths of approximately 4 to 6 inches.  They are black with blue spots that look like someone has spattered them with blue paint (see above).  Juveniles, however, do not exhibit these blue spots immediately after metamorphosis and may appear to be plain black salamanders.  Blue-Spotted Salamanders are members of the family Ambystomatidae, which also includes Tiger Salamanders.

        Habitat/Ecology:  These salamanders are said to be more tolerant of dry conditions than other salamanders in Wisconsin and they have even been reported in sandy soiled woodlands.  Most of their time is spent under leaf litter or other organic debris.  In Bayfield County (northern WI.) I encountered many individuals in boggy habitats under decaying birch logs (occasionally with Red-Backed and Spotted Salamanders).  Blue-Spotted Salamanders usually breed from late March to early May.  Eggs are deposited in ponds and ephemeral wetlands and consist of a globular mass of embryos.  Their larvae are carnivorous, but because they never reach the size of larval Tiger Salamanders, they consume much smaller prey (i.e., small aquatic invertebrates).  Adults will prey upon many invertebrates that they come across, including earthworms, slugs, and grubs.

        Remarks:  It is interesting to note that, if threatened, these salamanders will raise their tail and wave it back and forth in a serpentine fashion.  It is also said that they will concurrently secrete a whitish substance from above the base of the tail that is reported to be toxic or distasteful.  While I have never witnessed the toxic secretion, I have witnessed the tail waving after accidentally dropping a juvenile I had encountered in Houston County (Minnesota).  

        Blue-Spotted Salamanders are not as common as Tiger Salamanders, but where they exist, they can be found in large densities.  In areas of Bayfield County where I encountered them, they were so prolific that it seemed as if every other piece of birch overturned had one to three adults hiding underneath.

        I have not encountered Blue-spotted Salamanders in the LaCrosse area.  I have found them in nearby Houston County (Minnesota) and Christoffel et al. (2001) and Casper (1996) show them as existing in LaCrosse County.  Therefore, I would guess that they exist near or within LaCrosse. 

        These are beautiful, fragile salamanders (and my personal favorite within the state).   

Check it out!  Where they occur, blue spotted salamanders are incredibly numerous.  I've found up to 7 under the same log!  The picture on the right shows the type of habitat these salamanders like; flooded forests with many fallen, and rotting logs to hide under.

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