Threatened and Endangered Amphibians: A Look Down Instead of Up!

Photo Courtesy of
Blotched Tiger Salamander-
Photo Courtesy of David Cunnington
At first thought, you might think a stormy night in the South Okanagan wouldn't be the best time to go on a Tiger Salamander Expedition.  Think again! These very wet nights are when amphibians are migrating the most actively between ponds, especially in the early spring and heading into the fall, when the temperatures are cooling down at night.

During a steady downpour, last week, Alyson Skinner (OSS Executive Director) and I headed over to the information kiosk, near the White Lake Observatory, to look for migrating Blotched Tiger Salamanders while doing a road survey.  Around 9 o'clock that evening, as we strapped on our headlamps and pulled out our clipboards, the clouds began to fall. It was perfect migration conditions and we were hoping for a good count. 

Several years ago, along this road, Doreen Olson (local naturalist and Wildlife Habitat Steward), counted approximately 60 roadkill salamanders.  Although that was an unusually high population year for the salamanders, it serves as a great indication of the importance of this habitat for an endangered species and good reminder of the impacts that human activity can have on wildlife. 

Great Basin Spadefoot
During our survey, we only encountered one large Tiger Salamander, and he disappeared into his burrow so quickly there wasn't even time to snap a photo.  In addition, we also saw several spadefoots, with only one having been struck by a vehicle.  We also encountered several roadkill Gopher Snakes. (If you'd like to learn more, click Here for Tiger Salamanders or Here for Great Basin Spadefoots).

The most enjoyable part of the evening for me was handling the spadefoots, while shooing them off the road.  They would try to quickly hop away as you approached, but then when you picked them up, they resigned themselves to their fates and kept completely motionless.  They were quite small < 3 inches, so they easily fit into the palm of your hand.

Some Interesting Things About Salamanders!

  • One of the most scientifically interesting things about Tiger Salamanders is that the aquatic larvae (gills) can become sexually mature as larvae - and never leave the water. One of the most accepted hypothesis is that these animals remain larval because the aquatic habitat quality and food resources are high. No one knows for sure though and the number of sites with paedomorphs is very low
  • There are about 500 species of salamanders, the biggest one 'Chinese Giant' reach up to 5 feet in length (really!)
  • Some salamander species can regenerate tails, toes, and rarely but in some cases limbs - so they are very valuable to science. 
  • The greek word Salamander means 'fire lizard'
  • 2014 is year of the salamander!

What can you do?

Please slow down and watch for wildlife on
If you are driving in the rain, close to salamander and spadefoot habitat, please reduce your speed and be on the lookout for hard-to-see critters crossing the road.  If you have property near riparian or wetland habitat, take amphibians into consideration when planning your development and consider becoming a wildlife habitat steward with the Stewardship Society.  Please report any Tiger Salamander sightings to Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship at, also sending a photo would be great!

Kieran McIntosh
OSSS Summer Field Technician