Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright

I was riding my bicycle to work yesterday and encountered a tiger salamander. Of course, I jammed on the brakes, hopped off my bike, and pulled out my camera.

The question, of course, is why did the tiger salamander cross the road? I'm not sure. It rained a lot yesterday which may have something to do with it. It surprises me that they're active when it's cold - the overnight low must have been around 5 c and it had only warmed up to about 8 by this time. I wonder if they move to different places to spend the winter? Or if they're out looking for mates? A couple of years ago I saw another one near here at a similar time of the year in even colder temperatures.

When I moved close to photograph him (her?), he'd curl up his tail. But after I squatted in front of him for a few minutes without moving he approached my feet and appeared to be looking for a hiding spot under my shoes.

They almost look like they're smiling. After taking pictures I backed off and watched to see where he'd go, assuming he'd cross the trail and head off into the grass. But no, he seemed intent on heading straight down the middle of the path. This is a busy trail with bicycles and walkers and dogs and I didn't think the trail was the best place for him so I carefully picked him up and moved him onto the grass where he soon disappeared.

I'm not sure what the attraction of the trail was. Maybe to a salamander it resembled some kind of drainage that it was programmed (by evolution) to follow to the next pool of water.

I put my camera away and got back on my bike, only to encounter a second salamander a few hundred meters away.

This one was slightly larger and appeared to still have remnants of the gills they have in their aquatic larval stage.

I know to a lot of people it'd just be another ugly critter and a slimy, crawly one at that. But I love 'em all.

* The title is from a line from a William Blake poem.


  1. You're more the expert on these creatures than I, but wasn't the salamander likely on the path because it was warmer?

  2. Yeah, that's usually the reason, but it was early enough and cool enough that the sun hadn't really had a chance to warm up the asphalt. And they didn't seem to be just soaking up the sun as you see snakes and turtles do. And you normally never see them. These ones seemed to be on a mission. Maybe a combination of looking for somewhere to hibernate and also looking for warmth.