Four-toed Salamander: Hemidactylium scutatum

On the evening of June 7th, 2014, we discovered a new resident of Rabbit Island. A few minutes after sunset, between 11pm and 12am, dozens of these four-toed salamanders were seen scurrying from the rocky shoreline to the island’s forested interior. Andrew Ranville and resident artist Elvia Wilk were at camp to witness the event. 

+ This amphibian is rare in forested regions of the Eastern United States due to forest fragmentation and habitat loss.

+ It exhibits features that may differ from those described previously. Curiously, it lacks the prominent “basal constriction” at the base of the tail, a distinguishing telltale of most Four-toed Salamanders. Perhaps this is a product of population isolation.

+ Biology texts report the salamander’s habitat to be near water sources and made up of mixed coniferous-deciduous forests containing woodland debris, rocks and mosses—a perfect match to the Rabbit Island environment, which makes sense. 

+ On June 7th the air was cool and the ground was quite damp. In 2014 a long winter had pushed spring back in the Keweenaw Peninsula region and on the island itself (which is often two weeks behind the mainland anyway). Considering the most opportune time to witness the salamander is during their nesting season of April-May, the delayed island climate might have presented ideal conditions for the species to become active, and thus visible, later in the season than normal.

If anyone is interested in pursuing research related to this salamander on Rabbit Island, or have proposals related to any other research, please get in touch. You can learn more about scientific research on Rabbit Island on our Science page.

Additional salamander info:

Minnesota DNR Rare Species Guide

Four-toed Salamander on Wikipedia

October 21, 2014