Aside from its yellow embellishments, arboreal salamanders camouflage well into their foliage-heavy habitats. Photo © TJ Gehling
Acrobatics and ecototherms aren’t often synonymous with one another. And, if anything, they’re antithetical denotations—I’ve never seen a sulcata tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) somersault before. But with any seemingly unbreakable custom, there’s always a rebellious, “burn the rule book” type, refusing to be shoe-boxed in with the others. And the arboreal salamander (Aneides lugubris) is hanging from that box, six-stories high—with no safety net.
A native to the coastal pine and oak forests of California and north-western Mexico, the arboreal salamander is a large, lungless, mono-chromatic salamander that’s sparsely pigmented by the appearance of dorsally-located yellow spots. But the anatomical quirk that trumps all others is their uniquely prehensile tail—all the better for their arboreal tendencies. Given the situation, a half-foot adult could hang solely from this clingy extremity.
Interestingly enough, these lengthy salamanders spend most nocturnal evenings trudging along the moist, leaf littered forest floors of their endemic ranges. It’s only during the thirst-quenching dry seasons that they’ll ascend to their canopy dwellings—lungless amphibians must maintain epidermal integrity for proper respiration.
Predominately feeding on small invertebrates, the arboreal salamander seeks out populations of both termites and ants. But with a formidable bite, it’s hard to believe such a menacing amphibian sustains itself on the exoskeletal life forms it feasts upon—that impressive dentistry comes into play during territorial disputes among rival salamanders.
Mostly adhering to the mantra of “this land is my land”, arboreal salamanders will, however, congregate in groups consisting of up to a dozen or more individuals during those dry seasons previously mentioned. When it comes to reproduction, these canopy-inclined amphibians begin life in a foreshadowing circumstance—dozens of externally fertilized eggs from a single female will hang from the hollow vacancies of moist logs, rocky crevices, etc.. And, should predation and elemental stresses be kept at bay, a new generation of amphibian dare devils will grace the canopies within three or four months.
Many live their lives in the wake of indecisiveness. Should we take that job? How will my work be perceived? Am I too young or old for this idea? Am I making a difference? All these questions frequent the mind of not just the conservationist—they find shelter within humanity. But with every decision presented, it should always echo one inner monologue: “does this task coincide with my life’s passion and purpose?” If so, take a leap of faith—and pray you spontaneously generate a prehensile tail mid-fall.