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Salamander crossing: East Branch Road residents put out an SOS

4-22-henry-mock-spotted-salamander-crossingHenry Mock and fellow neighbors on the East Branch Road in Jackson are doing their part to protect the spotted salamander. (GLENN ASHWORTH PHOTO)By Lloyd Jones
JACKSON — Residents along a portion of East Branch Road are sending out an SOS — Save Our Salamanders.
The residents have put a sign up next to the road urging motorists to slow down because the area has become a popular crossing area for the amphibian, especially this time of year.
The sign reads: "Please Slow Down!!! Salamander X-ing on Rainy Nights — 28 killed in 2012 — Thanks"
Included below the sign is a plastic bag containing a brochure about the spotted salamander. Motorists are not only urged to slow down but are encouraged to take one of the pamphlets, too.
"We want to do our part," said resident Henry Mock. "They usually only come out on warm, rainy nights. For some reason over the last couple of years they like to to bread, mate, whatever in my neighbor's swamp and they have to cross the road to get there. We lost 28 of them last year."
Mock, the former chief conservation officer for New Hampshire and Game, said motorists get a kick out of seeing the sign. He and and handful of neighbors have been keeping an eye out for blue spotted salamanders.
According to New Hampshire Fish and Game, "Spotted salamanders, and other Ambystoma salamanders (marbled, blue-spotted, and Jefferson salamanders) depend on vernal pool habitats to lay their eggs because these habitats maintain water long enough for larval salamanders to develop but because vernal pools generally dry by late summer these areas lack reproducing populations of predatory fish."

4-22---spotted-salamanderThe spotted salamander can grow to nine inches in size and live for up to 20 years. (N.H. FISH AND GAME PHOTO"They're not endangered, but we want to help them out if we can," Mock said. "About 10 of us (neighbors) just think they're very unique, the whole neighborhood is talking about them. (Laughing) We've kind of become unofficial salamander crossing guards."
The pamphlet residents have put out provides extensive background on the spotted blue salamander.
"Named for the two rows of yellow and orange spots speckled along their black backs, spotted salamanders are large members of the mole salamander family," the brochure sates. "On average they measure about seven inches, but they can reach lengths up to nine inches long!
"Common in the forests of the the eastern United States and eastern Canada, spotted salamanders make their homes in areas that are close to ponds and vernal pools. But despite their thriving populations, the dark amphibians are difficult to find. Adults spend most of their day hiding underground or beneath rock and logs. Venturing out from their hiding spots at night to hunt, they eat anything they can catch and swallow, including worms, spiders, insects and slugs.
"When threatened, spotted salamanders secrete a mild sticky toxin from their backs and tails that dissuades predators such as skunks, raccoons, turtles, chipmunks, squirrels, opossums and snakes from eating them.
"Spotted salamanders use ponds for breeding. In early spring, they wake from their hibernation and migrate to ponds to mate for several days. They return to the same pond each year. Thousands of spotted salamanders will travel to a breeding pond at the same time. During the breeding period, females lay up to 200 eggs which are encased in a jelly-like coating. The coating helps protect the eggs from predators like fish, turtles, aquatic insects, birds, frogs and crayfish.
"A few weeks after being laid, the eggs hatch. Larval spotted salamanders have feathery gills on the outside of their bodies. They live underwater feeding and growing for up to four months. Juveniles lose their gills and climb onto land. When they reach adulthood they are able to breed. Spotted salamanders can live up to 20 years."
Mock also pointed out that New Hampshire had the honor of being the first state to designate an official state amphibian. It did so in 1985. To date, 16 other states have followed the Granite State's lead.
"It's the Orange Spotted Newt," Mock said, "which is a cousin to the spotted salamander."
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