My friends and I spent a lot of time as kids in the woods. We loved to explore, it was new territory to be discovered after leaving the “safety” of the neighborhood. We had very little knowledge of the things we found or saw there… these were the days before the internet had all the answers. In fact, we didn’t even have much on cable TV yet. No Discovery or Animal Channels. The forest was dark, mysterious, and spooky. The animals were often spectres disappearing into the brush, many in our minds had to be dangerous. Growing up in Delaware, we were likely the only dangerous things in those woods. Dangers to ourselves of course!
We were more concerned with getting into and out of those woods alive. It was all about the adventure and sadly, not much time was spent on discovery. We’d track deer, spot fish, try to catch bullfrogs, feed ants to the antlions along the sandy trails, and not much else. As an adult the adventure and mystery faded, but the curiosity grew and grew. I wanted to learn about all the things I had overlooked. I started exploring the woods again, this time a little slower and with a lot more inspection and oddly introspection. I felt at peace in nature, often overcome with excitement and childlike joy at the things I was discovering or even rediscovering.
All this brings us to the true topic of this post. We get there as if we’ve followed an ever-curving stream through the woods or traced the ribbon-like body of a fleeing snake or watched the twitching tail of a salamander in the mud. All that time in the woods and I had never explored our stream. In fact, I hadn’t explored any stream. I had never hiked down the middle of a stream, not up to my waist, not even up to my knees. I had never dug down into the mud or flipped any rocks or rolled any logs in search of who or what may be living there.
All that changed when we moved to Bucks County in June of 2015. We sent our 8-year-old daughter to camp here at Honey Hollow. At pick up she would take me into the woods and show me her favorite places, most notably the places she had explored in the stream. There, she introduced me to a world I had known existed but had never visited. We would find all kinds of interesting creatures, but the neatest by far were the salamanders. They seemed to be under every other rock. A whole new world of exploration had been opened for us. Quickly, we learned all we could about these intriguing and shy creatures.
Salamanders are lizard-like amphibians. Some are fully aquatic, while other become terrestrial after reaching adulthood. All have permeable skin that needs to remain moist, so they spend most of their lives in cool, damp locations. Some, like the tiger salamander, live in underground burrows, only emerging to reenter the water for mating. Salamanders have the ability to regenerate lost limbs or damaged body parts, making them truly fascinating survivors who have inhabited the earth since the late Jurassic Period.
We have at least 5 or 6 different species of salamander here at Honey Hollow. We find them living under rotting logs and under rocks in and around the stream. It’s always a treat to catch one and show it to a child (or adult) for the first time. Occasionally we get lucky a find a rare one like the Red Salamander, whom we only find a few of each year. This year has been a good year to find them still small and in the larval stage of life, complete with gills. Salamanders will remain one of my favorite things to find here at Honey Hollow, each time is nearly as exciting to me as the first. I’m just sorry it took me so long to discover these interesting little beings hiding just under foot and am so glad that I did. Thanks Ella, for teaching me a thing or two!
If you’d be interested in learning more, join us for our “Cold-blooded Critters” Amphibian and Reptile Survey on Saturday, August 18th. Details for this event and other resources can be found below.