Another salamander lover arrived at Meadowcreek yesterday. Since a local University ecology professor insisted, we have dedicated our new pond to salamanders. Our Ozarks is home to some rare and endangered salamanders.
The Ozark hellbender has the best name and is also the ugliest. It grows to two feet long and only lives in the clear mountain streams of the Ozarks. Some call it the “snot otter” or “devil dog.” These rare amphibians breathe almost entirely through their skin, making them a living barometer of water quality because of their sensitivity to silt and pollution,
Hellbenders have survived for ten million years, but only 1200 Ozark hellbenders are left. Researchers recently have found only large mature hellbenders. Juveniles have virtually disappeared. The system isn’t redundant these days. The old hellbenders are surviving, but they aren’t reproducing. Reminds us of a city filled with childless couples or a state filled with only 60-ish farmers.
You might call these mature adults resilient, but the system is not resilient unless they are reproducing themselves. The system will disappear when they finish their lifespans.
Some folks don’t like the looks of hellbenders and kill them on sight. They aren’t lucky enough to have the poisonous skin of their fellow salamander, the Eastern newts. People have died who didn’t wash their hands after touching them. The Eastern newt is also thriving because of the plasticity of its life cycle. These newts have egg, larvae, eft and adult phases. The egg, larvae and adult live in the water, but the eft (or teenagers) live on land.
When drought occurs and water sources dry up the Eastern newt can go into the eft phase and search out new waters where it can turn into an adult and breed. When water is abundant, larvae may skip the teenage eft phase and transition straight to adults. Maybe humans need a similar mechanism to avoid the teenage years. Though modern America seems to be lengthening it with more and more millenials staying single and living with their parents.
Nineteen salamanders are protected and monitored in Arkansas. Many species are found in only single counties. We’re doing our best to help endangered species survive at Meadowcreek. Unfortunately, that means limiting some things that we really like to do, such as fishing.
Having a salamander pond means that you don’t have a fishing pond. Fish will exterminate salamanders. There is no balance of nature when it comes to fish and salamanders in a pond. Fish, like most humans, don’t care whether salamanders are endangered.
Besides, we have a great fishing pond with plenty of mature, fighting pickerel and bass, so it’s no big hardship to set aside a pond for salamanders. Who knows, we might be creating the habitat which will save an endangered species.