Ever since I was a little kid, I have enjoyed turning over rocks to see who or what is living under them. So, you can imagine my joy at getting paid to do this fun activity.
A great activity for kids and “kids at heart,” is one of our popular programs at Grayson Highlands State Park called "The Salamander Meander."
To get warmed up, children and adults alike enjoy a reading of the picture book The Salamander Room, by Anne Mazer. Then, after a brief primer on salamander etiquette – “Don’t smash the salamanders or pull off their tails. Put their rocks back properly, and release back in the vicinity of their home” – we head into the woods armed with plastic sandwich bags and a salamander identification book to see what we can find! The plastic bags keep the salamanders safe from offending substances on sticky little hands. This is important because many salamanders breathe through their skin, and any oils or other substances on the hands can disrupt their absorption of oxygen.
Teaching the next generation
The Salamander Meander program is very successful, and we find many different species. Species include dusky salamanders, red-backed salamanders, and slimy salamanders, among others. In fact, on our last Salamander Meander a young boy caught one of the biggest dusky salamanders I have ever seen. This salamander was around six or seven inches long with a very robust body and beautiful mottled brown markings. “Yay!” I said, while the youngster puffed out his chest in pride at his salamander hunting prowess.
Grayson Highlands has great habitat for these little guys
Participants are often surprised to learn that there are so many salamanders in the park. Neighboring Whitetop Mountain is said to hold more different types of salamanders than any other place in the world with upwards of 17 species found within two square miles. Since salamanders are indicator species that signal that an environment is healthy, this is a sure sign that Grayson Highlands State Park is a healthy ecosystem that supports many different species including the lowly but extremely fascinating salamanders!
Come join us on a Salamander Meander this August. The program is scheduled for August 6, 16, 24, and 30. Call the park office at 276-579-7092 or email.