Things we love: Those sneaky salamanders
About this series: While many people love nature, different people love different aspects of it. One may have a soft spot for flowers, while another gravitates toward a particular animal. And yet for others, it's all about the scenery. "Things We Love" explores those jaw-dropping parts of nature that one person finds particularly special. In this edition, Suzy Lyttle, an interpretive naturalist at Plum Creek Nature Center, tells us why she has a crush on salamanders.
Springtime is a great time for the outdoors. Everything perks up after winter. Birds are singing, frogs are croaking, wildflowers are emerging and — best yet — salamanders are on the move! I love salamanders with my whole heart because they are colorful, they make you explore and they have big eyes with big smiles — plus they are still a bit of secret.
My crush on salamanders began while studying wildlife biology in college. We had classes about all sorts of animals, but the salamander caught my creative eye. They come in all kinds of colors and patterns, such as bright orange, red backs, blue spots, yellow spots, even marbled. They look like they would be found in the deepest tropical jungles, but really the eastern part of the United States is the spot with the highest diversity of salamanders in the world.
The best part of any crush is the chase. I always like searching for salamanders because they get you to keep your eyes focused on the forest floor. I start to notice the colors of the leaves, the patterns of the moss, the range of decay in logs — details I would normally walk over.
You must look under the perfect log to find a salamander. By this point, I’m usually muddy and have leaves in my hair, but the reward is something that makes my heart flutter every single time. Most of the time, salamanders just sit there hoping you don’t notice them, but I am sure they notice me when I squeal in excitement. Seeing their big eyes, wide smiles and bright colors, I can’t resist. They are just too cute. I don’t even want to pick them up. For their safety, I let them be. However, I do take a picture of each one, no matter if its my first or 21st.
In the whole state of Illinois, blue-spotted salamanders are only found in our area. At Plum Creek Nature Center, we hold these salamanders in a special place in our hearts. We have made them our mascot and have a giant sculpture ready for the perfect photo opp.
The best part of my salamander love story is when I am with students on field trips. When they first arrive, they say, “Wow look at that giant lizard!” I smirk and simply reply, “It’s not a lizard …”
I’ll take them on a hike and task them to roll logs to find beetles, worms and, if they are lucky, amphibians like salamanders. When I hear the screams, “It’s a blue lizard!” I know we have hit the jackpot. With a big smile on my face I introduce them to their first blue-spotted salamander. At the end of their time at the nature center, we visit that big blue sculpture again. This time the students wave and cheer, “Bye Spot the Salamander.” Now that’s true love.