The Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum) is at-risk in Ontario. It is listed as Endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). They have a very small range in the country, occurring mainly around the Niagara escarpment in southern Ontario. However, intergrades with the Blue-Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale), which are known as Polyploids, exist from southern Ontario through to New England, New York and west through the Great Lakes region. Many Polyploids are referred to as Blue-Spotted dominant, as the majority of their genetic make-up comes from the more common Blue-Spotted Salamander.
However, last week when I was collecting salamander observations as part of a study I am doing for Parks Canada, I was lucky to see what appeared to be a Jefferson-dominant Salamander just west of Brockville, Ontario. The site where I encountered the salamander was in the Thousand Islands Region. The morphology of the animal suggested Jefferson-dominant. Such features include the relatively long toes, the pronounced costal grooves, and the relatively long and broad snout – all traits of the pure-form Jefferson Salamander. It was also around 6 inches long, a size more typical of the larger Jefferson (opposed to the smaller Blue-Spotted). According to range maps from iNaturalist, pure form Jefferson Salamanders occur just across the St. Lawrence River in New York State. The one I observed was right in this area not far from the river, so the chance of a pure form drifter is possible too – (though not likely). However, drifting from the U.S is suspected to be the case of two historical observations, one of a Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) and one of a Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) occurring in Ontario. Furthermore, A Natural Heritage Review of the Thousand Islands Ecosystem (Oliver K. Reichl B.E.S.(Hons), 2002) lists the Jefferson Salamander among the herptile species that occur within the Thousand Islands Ecosystem.
Whether or not it was pure form or a one that is predominately Jefferson, it was an extraordinary and spectacular encounter.
Matt Ellerbeck – The Salamander Man
Salamander Advocate & Conservationist