Still others, like the blue-spotted salamander, have names that offer an even clearer picture as to what they might look like. For instance, the red-backed salamander has a red stripe down its back, and the zigzag salamander wears a zigzag pattern.
“You can tell herpetologists were pretty descriptive when it came to naming the species,” she said.
Even though the spotted, blue-spotted and the eastern tiger are the most common species found in Will County forest preserves, other salamander sightings have been recorded throughout the years.
According to District wildlife biologist Glen Buckner, these include eastern newts seen at Thorn Creek Woods Nature Preserve in 2000 and Braidwood Dunes and Savanna Nature Preserve in 2017, and small mouth salamanders found at McKinley Woods in 2014. There was even a sighting of a southern two-lined salamander that dates back to 1932.
“We actually have salamanders in many of our preserves, but not in large numbers at most locations,” Buckner said. They are, however, reported to be the most prevalent at five forest preserve sites: Goodenow Grove, Plum Valley Ravines, Messenger Woods Nature Preserve, Thorn Creek Woods, Braidwood Dunes and McKinley Woods.
So what’s the best way to see these secretive creatures?
“You need the perfect habitat and the perfect weather,” Lyttle said. “Salamanders live in deciduous forest because they need the leaf litter on the forest floor to hide under as well as rotting logs or downed tree limbs. They also like lowland areas that flood in the spring to create fishless wetland. “During breeding season, the weather has to be above 40 degrees and wet. So the rainy days of spring are perfect salamander days.
“And once you do find one, you’re rewarded with something colorful, with big eyes and a big smile,” she said.
QUIZ: HOW SMART ARE YOU ABOUT SALAMANDERS?
Both Lyttle and Buckner caution that if you do cross paths with a salamander, be sure to savor your good fortune but avoid the impulse to touch or pick up the salamander.
“Salamanders have very sensitive skin,” Lyttle said. “It’s absorbent like a sponge. Therefore, anything that you put on your hands you are directly sharing with the salamander. Bug spray and lotions have chemicals that could really harm salamanders, and our skin can also dry out a salamander’s skin.”
Buckner said there are a number of diseases that can also be transmitted to and from them, including salmonella from salamanders to humans and some fungal diseases from humans to salamanders.
So look as long as you’d like, but don’t touch.
Lyttle said one of her favorite salamander memories is when she found an old shoe in the forest during a “Salamander Safari” program hosted by the District. “The shoe had been there a while, even had moss growing on it,” she recounted. “I made a note of it so I would come back after the program with a trash bag and remove it. Later on, I hear someone giddy with excitement because they finally found a salamander. Where was it? Hiding under that old shoe!”