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Amphibian - Mole (Jefferson) Salamander
 Herptile in General
 Habitat Creation and Protection,
 in Urban/Park Forests/Wetlands.
Page 1

This web-page has been posted for the purpose of promoting a discussion, an exchange of ideas/opinions and experiences. 
The ideas listed below are
not presented as recommended forest/wildlife practices or management.

After my first e-mail call for help in this matter the request for aid has be further refined and more useful information has been posted for everyone to use.

This web-page was written in haste so please excuse spelling and grammatical errors.

As most of you know, where there are Jefferson Salamanders there is the complex that has mixed chromosomes from other species (up to four), which often makes up the greater part of the population, which appears to be the case for us.   Blue-spotted (Ambystoma laterale) and Jefferson Salamander (Ambystoma  jeffersonianum), make the polyploid unisexual (all female), hybrids, A.  jeffersonianum complex in the Cawthra Bush.  Many of the tested, by Electrophoretic analysis, were triploid (three sets of chromosomes), hybrids with the above genotype.  One set of  Blue-spotted chromosomes and two sets of Jefferson chromosomes, so before we found a pure Jefferson we knew that the pure species in the Cawthra Bush was the Jefferson Salamanders.  Also that it would be the males from the pure Jeffersons doing the breeding.
For ease of communicating, I will just be referring to them all as Jeffersons, as they all depend on the existence of  Jefferson to survive and even the hybrids are mostly Jefferson.

To E-maill me with feed back -

For the environmental significance of the Cawthra Bush and a map
click here.

The matter to be considered;

My experiences raising Jefferson Salamanders in captivity.

Wood Chips - Compost - Leaf Litter - Dirt/Soil;


Web-sites & list servers that have been noted to me so far.

Books - Studies - referred to so far.

Persons who we need contact info for.

On the Next Page;

The kinds of environments required;

 *     Upland - well drained Forest/Terrestrial Habitat for during the growing season;

 *     Breeding ponds.

 *     Hibernaculums.

 *     The Urban Amphibian Bunker.

The matter to be considered;

     This web-page is to aid not only our group but also to post information submitted about how this common problem can be dealt with.  One of the main focuses of the page is something not often focused on, the forest habitat of herptiles and mole salamanders specifically.  Their protection and feeding as a way to increasing their population to ensuring their survival in isolated urban forest/wetlands.  Given the world wide die off of all amphibians, an entire Class of unique species and the grand-dads to all animal life on earth, including us, is threatened with extinction.  Is it not time we made every effort to aid in their survival?  As the destruction of their habitat is one of the main reasons for the extinction of certain species and a general die off of the whole Class (with no end in sight), it's time we develop a host of methods for amphibians (and reptiles in general) protection and aiding population growth that will work throughout their life cycle, in a wide variety of environments.  Especially those in or near urban environments.

     The sharing of ideas will hopefully allow us to create a reasonable plan that public support can get the City of Mississauga to implement, which has been the case in the past and stop eliminating Jefferson habitat, even against the expressed concerns of the Friends of the Cawthra Bush (FCB), and the Ministry of Natural Resources.  The Cawthra Bush, in Canada, Ontario, Mississauga, was in 2000 declared a Provincially Significant Wetland Complex and the Jefferson Salamander was also in 2000 declared a federally threatened species by COSEWIC (Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada).  Also, Cawthra Bush has been called an old-growth ecosystem by Paul Maycock, Forest Ecologist, Erindale Campus, University of Toronto but the City will not recognize this fact.  There are Garter Snakes, Little Brown Snakes, Red-backed Salamanders and Toads.  People remember there was once frogs and we would like to bring them back.  There are small mammals but to date no one has studied them (who wants to be first?).  The City has not made a serious effort at having the Cawthra Bush studies through the seasons.  The City of Mississauga also will not commit specifically to either the survival of the Jeffersons' or their habitat.  It is with great effort that the FCB makes the gains we have.

     The Jefferson (mole) Salamander is just one of the many wetlands/old-growth or mature forest creatures in the Cawthra Bush.  The unique features found in a mature forest are not easily created but as we can not wait the decades or centuries it takes for them to naturally occur.  We must consider how to create certain necessary features/structures, that will function almost as soon as they as are constructed.  Most any little boy can tell you that you find salamanders and other interesting things under stones and logs in forests.  It is also the Little Boys With Buckets (LBWB), that are taking all they can find and thus are a significant threat to amphibians.  Humans in general are herptiles greatest predators and ways of  discouraging and/or frustrating the causal to semi-serious collectors/harvesters of herptile wildlife is the main focus of this discussion page.  So, whatever habitat is created to aid the herptiles in the Cawthra Bush or else where, it must be have layers of self-defense or it is too easy for LBWB (young or old), to loot it.  Many people say that LBWB are determine and resourceful, suggesting they can't be stopped, so why even try?  The harder we make it, the more likely some amphibians and reptiles will survive.  Otherwise, we do nothing but watch them die off and wave good by.  We can do better then that!

     Most efforts at trying to aid the survival of herptiles are creating breeding ponds or hibernaculums.  Both of which cost a fair amount to built and often heavy equipment in an environmentally significant areas.  So getting back to the LBWB and where herptiles in general can be found, under logs.  How do we go about creating the most common habitat that herptiles will be using most of the year, in the upland or well drained sections of the forest?  Using the forest ecosystem model, that increases in size when it is a mature forest, fallen trees.  Tree stems/logs on the forest floor become the food source and home for many invertebrates, plants and fungus.  A whole food chain and natures own amphibian/herptile shelter & feeding abode that renews itself while providing some protected habitat from most predators, expect for LBWB.  If man kind can build breeding ponds and hibernaculums surly we can build a safe amphibian/herptile shelter & feeding abodes.

     In a mature forest a fallen tree becomes a mound and where the roots are pulled out of the ground, a pit.  The pit often fills with water.  Both the mound and the pit offer micro-climates to wildlife and wildflowers.  Trees that fall in a forest are great and necessary sources of nutrients to the forest.  The richness of the soil is the life blood of the forest ecosystem.  The Cawthra Bush has been surrounded for more then a century by farms and houses.  The top 2/3's was logged in the 20's, the City in 1994 and grew back from its own seed source.  The bottom 1/3 has been relatively undisturbed, all the way back to the ice age.  The FCB stopped the City's logging and tree framing plans.  In the depression many family took whatever wood they could carry.  None the less, a fair amount of biomass has been removed and as any good gardener or farmer will tell you, taking all the time and returning nothing to the soil will deplete the nutrients from the soil.  The surrounding urban developments have weaken the forest and the public uses it for a recreational park.

     A healthy forest has the eco-indicators of a healthy forest, amphibians.  In studies the biomass of salamanders of all kinds, will out weight both small animals and birds.  All herptiles together makes the difference even larger, that alone should make them a priority in forest management.   It makes sense to make a serious effort and focus the efforts for a ensuring a healthy ecosystem by herptile protection and population growth.  Also, amphibians, are the food for other mammals and birds that, it is sad to say, many would think more desirable in a forest, well at least more visible.  As larger animals can not endure in a small isolated urban forests, does it not make sense that efforts should be concentrated on those who are the foundation of the animal food chain and able to hide in the ground?  Further more, the presence of herptiles, particularly amphibians, is very important in assigning the environmental significance of a location, for its level of protection from development.  And we all know that sites will be derated, lose their protection, if certain important species disappear from that site.  So it is not time to start returning (biomass, food sources and habitat), what mankind has been taking, for the good of all and especially a healthy forest ecosystem?

     Herptiles love to eat the composters.  The composters love big old fallen trees or piles of branches with leaves or piles of leaf litter or maybe even piles of wood chips.  Small mammals also love the fore mentioned piles of biomass to dig their tunnels into or under, which are in turn used by herptiles to get deep into the ground, maybe enough to winter over in.  So increasing the food source for herptiles is also doing so for mammals and some birds too.  Such as the Pileated woodpecker that eat carpenter ants in logs or the Red-shouldered hawks that primarily eat amphibians.  As logs take some time before it becomes a real source of food, the adding of wood chips, other compost and rubble will mean that protected habitat and food will be create from day one.  Providing food and a protected habitat will inevitable result in an population growth.

     Adding construction rubble, even spending the time to make sure underground chambers have been created with access to the surface is important for its use right away, but remember this not a hibernaculum, it need not go below the frost line.  Many species will live/forage in one area and grow fat during the growing season and when it feels the on set of winter find an appropriate place to spend the winter in.  As there are herptiles in the Cawthra Bush, then there must be suitable places or hibernaculums already existing.  Piles of leaf litter (maybe mixed with dirt), branches and logs are fairly cheap and easy for a City to provide.  The only questions are how to serve this up to our cold blooded friends (no, not the politicians), in a manor that best achieves all our goals.  To create improved old-growth features for the urban/park setting, that can be effective in short order.  To just try and protect what remains and not try to create more habitat, will sure means a slow, inevitable end for the herptiles at the Cawthra Bush.

     The City has said it plans to put a fence around the only breeding pond left in the Cawthra Bush this year.  The City first knew about the Jefferson's in 1997 and then they were known to be a rare spices.  The pond is a deep one so the surrounding land is usually well drained.  The fence can be the first line of defence but that in itself will not stop LBWB or herptile collectors.  In the Cawthra Bush are two old chain link fences left over from pervious owners, the City owns all the land now.  These fences are falling down and are a public safety hazard, bits of the rusty barbed wire that was on top.  Hidden in the leaves and still easy to tripped over.  These chain link fences can be used to cover created habitat so LBWB will be unlikely to dig their way to any herptiles.  Plus other features of the created habitat will mean there will layers of protection for herptiles, especially mole salamanders who like to go deep.

     The City went into the Cawthra Bush this year, cut down a large number of saplings and left them in a pile for a few weeks on a lawn section of the Cawthra Estate.  After they were removed there was a number of small mammal holes where there had been none.  This is what I saw and City staff reported to me.  In just a few weeks the City created habitat and a food source from the branches/leaves decomposed.  (All the branches were removed from the forest.)  A simple idea that is effective and on a larger scale of great benefit to the whole forest ecosystem.  It was suggested to the City that simply they used the logs from the trees they cut on site (as a part of their forest management activities) or bring in logs, cut them length wise down the middle for maximum exposure to the ground and water up take, covering them with branches, a couple feet deep, should be tried but City staff just said it would not work.

     Returning biomass to the Cawthra Bush by way of logs, branches and leaf litter would appear to be the cheapest and easiest all round solution to returning and ensuring a healthy forest ecosystem in the Cawthra Bush.  This also helps to create and maintain another aspect of a mature or old-growth ecosystem, the required humidity and moisture in the soil to support a wide variety of herptiles and plant life.

    However, there are concerns about bring diseases into a forest using this method.  Will the benefits, in the long term out weight these concerns?  There is little that can be done in a forest if disease starts to spread.  Urban forests are more likely to suffer as the surrounding urban environment has weakened them.  Diseases would have to run their course.  So what goes around comes around.  As the trees would be from the surrounding City it would only be a matter of time before it caught hold in all the forests any ways.  By increasing the amount of biomass a forest can draw upon, food, trees and other plants can be stronger to fight off disease.  If this does not work then the trees that grow in their place will be stronger and grow faster with a ready supply of decomposing biomass.  Natures way.  Some feed back on this would be important as the City likes to use disease as reason to cut down trees and remove them from the forest, even though the diseases they note are already throughout the forest.  The City really wants to spend the time and money to cut down trees and truck them out of the forest, for some reason.

     The ideas so far are quick fixes but are not forever.  More tradition approaches such as planting trees and managing a forest for old-growth features (which the City is not committed to do), are.  The logs we provide will disappear in time and the forest needs to be able, as much as it can, to provide its own dead trees.  Other wise, there must be a commitment to every 10, 20 or so years renew efforts at providing biomass and habitat to the forests in question.

     What kinds of trees do Jefferson/mole Salamanders like in their forests?   (it would be too broad to ask what kind of tree do herptiles like).  Dr. Bogart says his opinion Jefferson's prefer deciduous forests make up of Maple and Beech trees.  The Beech trees have the best all round characteristics; they grow fast and large, which is what people want to see in their parks and urban forests, big trees; their roots are good at disturbing the soil so that spaces are created, that other creatures can use to get deep in the ground; Red-shouldered hawks like to nest in them; they make great dead standing trees for cavity nesting birds or mammals; when they fall to the ground a true micro-environment is created (especially if their roots are tipped up in the process);  if the roots stay in the ground, as they rot, underground access is created.  Just note a few and if you know more please let me know.  Also if you can inform me about what kinds of trees  Jefferson/mole Salamanders like and why that would be appreciated.  As well as, other herptiles they could live in south Ontario.

     One element, dead standing trees and their full role is not known but has been be touched on.  Some has been noted above but if you know more, that would apply to the body of knowledge that we are trying to amass, then please forward it to us.

My experiences raising Jefferson Salamanders in captivity.

     The Jefferson Salamanders were first found by me as larvae in the one and only pond in the Cawthra Bush that retains water long enough to them transform into a land dwelling creature.  The juvenile after metamorphosis look very similar to other species, Blue-spotted, (Yellow) Spotted so I was told by experts that after they have gone to ground, to keep some for a few weeks to see what colours develop.  The first year, many larvae also stayed in the pond till Nov.  All the Salamanders were soon sporting blue spots and Dr. Bogart using electrophoretic analysis found both triploid hybrids, two sets of chromosomes from Jefferson Salamanders and one set from Blue-spotted Salamanders and a pure Ambystoma jeffersoniaum.  Dr. Bogart's samples are deposited as vouchure specimens at the Royal Ontario Museum numbers 29395-98 and the Jefferson 29394.

     As it was getting late in the year it was decided to keep them till late spring and to use them for public displays to aid our efforts at saving the Cawthra Bush.  I made a number of inquires about how to keep them.  Most experts would keep their specimens in separate containers and feed them by waving a pieces of meat in front of their noses on the end of a toothpick.  With about 25 salamanders to look after this was not how I was going to spend my time.  I figured that recreating the environment they would best like to be in was the way to go, which was a compost pile.  As indoor composing was being presented to public as something that could be done, a supply of worms was not hard to come by.  In a terrarium that I built with a small pond, that was wide but only a few inches deep, a compost was created for them to live in.  This worked very well, they could eat as much as they care to and soon they were very plump salamanders indeed.  Every few weeks I added to the compost and every couple of months add more worms.  They were kept in the basement so the temperature was well above freezing during the first winter of their life.  Dr. Bogart was very impressed with my results.

From Dr. Bogart

5 February 1998

Dear Donald,

I enjoyed meeting with you last week and seeing all your salamanders.  I couldn't believe those individuals actually were from larvae collected this past spring and summer.  You certainly have found a good culture technique.  It was also nice to see Wayne Weller again and to meet the concerned citizens.  I hope that I was able to provide a little insight concerning the Jefferson salamander but I fear that my presentation might have been too technical for some folks.

This spring, I hope to visit Cawthra Woods and see the pond.  I find it very difficult to comment on a management plan without any knowledge of the site.

Thanks again and I assume that I we see you in April.

Sincerely - James P. Bogart
{But due to the actions of the City of Mississauga, we have had a falling out and don't communicate any more.}

     An interesting observation was that these mole salamanders would share dens.  In one case up to 15 were in the same underground den.  In fact, the two Red-backed salamanders also in the terrarium would often be found in the Jefferson den.  Even the one that lost a leg after being put in the terrarium and I don't think a worm bit it off, if you know what I mean.  These salamanders were dug up a few times over the winter and it was rare to find them denning alone.  Often one or two would sit at the entrance to the den, beside and even on top of each other.  They would let their food crawl over them.  Got the feeling that they were lazy as hunters, so much so that they would just open their mouths and let their dinner walk right in.

    In a following year I used a much deeper bin with lots of space and only had two salamanders in it, that people had found and give them to me (the "Salamander man").  These two would always den together despite there being lots of room to do so separately.  I even used a pole to poke a number of holes in the ground so they had some choices.  Some people say these salamanders are not communally hibernators, well I am not so sure about that.  If they live together then it would stand to reason they would or may hibernate together.

Here are the last two I had the other year, set free now.  They were dug out slowly to photograph their den being uncovered in stages.  To clearly show they were denning together.

     As there was were no other wildlife to create the holes for these mole salamanders they had to use whatever hole or crevice they could find.  In the loose soil they wasted no time getting below the surface one way or the other.  Soon the holes they were using were wore smooth.

Here are two Jefferson Salamanders one on top of the other at the mouth of burrow they make in the loose earth.  More then two shared this den.
A flash picture taken in darkness.

     When they were released into the pond they were born in, during the summer, they were full growth with very fat tails.

Wood Chips - Compost - Leaf Litter - Dirt/Soil;

     In the section about creating a shelter & feeding abode, the adding of wood chips between layers of logs, beside logs and in the rubble is suggested to greatly speeds up the habitat becoming a feeding station.  The smaller wood chips are easier for the decomposers to move around in and feed on.  As well as, generally providing nutrients to the soil.  Other biomass and dirt/soils can be used straight or mixed with wood chips.  Composed leaf litter or just plain compose, preferable with lots of worms in it.  As wood does take time breaking down the adding of other biomass/composting materials will make even the first year a food source.

     How good is chipped wood?  Anyone try this or has see the results of leaving piles wood Chips stand?  How does nature move in an a pile of wood chips?

     Adding dirt, good rich dirt helps too.  If it is from somewhere else in the forest that is best as there are concerns about importing seeds, invader species.  Adding compost is a good idea so long as it is free of contamination's, including foreign seeds.  Given how hard it is to keep foreign seeds out while bring in dirt/soil and compost, this becomes a matter of what is best in the long term.  As most cities are already have to deal with invader species in their natural areas, there a couple ways around this issue.  Make sure the site is inspected every month or so, each year, during the growing season and make that a part of the general forest inspection, that urban forests should get in order to control invader spices.  Members of the community can help here.  This will ensure that invader or foreign species are eliminated before they can fully grow, much less go to seed.  Use the compost only under the logs or deep in the trench/pit.  Much hard for it reach light and die trying.  Ideas about this or comments are welcome.


     In the last year our only Jefferson Salamander pond has suddenly become over grown with Duck weed and what appears to be an aquatic plant, a Wort, maybe.  So our breeding pond has in two years from having no plants to being cover with duck weed and the bottom filling up with an aquatic plant making it very hard to swim around in.  The whole existing ecology of the pond is changing.  Does any one out there have any experience with this kind of plant invasion?  Will affect the Jefferson's breeding?

    Would putting up nesting boxes for Wood ducks (which have frequented the pond in past years), and generally encouraging them and other ducks (Mallards have been seen in the forest), to hang around the pond and eat the plants, be a good idea?

     How to deal with local residents who don't like mosquitos and want the forest dried out?  Add to it the fear that mosquito's spread all kinds of disease, even the City tells volunteers who show up to help to beware of West Nile virus.  How do we get people to put up living close to a wetlands?

     The french drain effect and underground pipes that drain wetlands, any one know more?

     Hibernaculums built in a forest setting, will they work or do they have to have a south facing exposure, for the sun to warm them?  Has anyone built a hibernaculum in a forest for amphibians, like mole salamanders?  Or a shelter for salamander/amphibians for during the growing season?

     The City of Mississauga has not studied small mammals in the Cawthra Bush, who wants to be the first?

     Wood chips, how does wildlife and bugs react?  Can it be used to create habitat and how?  Under piles or in piles left to stand, is there evidence of bugs and wildlife taking up residence?

     Some people say these mole salamanders are not communally hibernators or live together during the year.  There is some evidence that they do, what are your experiences?

     In term of bring in dirt and compost into the Cawthra Bush, how serious would the threat of invader/foreign species be?  Would it be off set by the long term benefits to the forest if control measures worked, e.g.., just removing the plants as they grow.  They would be limited to the amphibians/herptile shelter & feeding station site.

     Regarding the wood brought into the forest from the surrounding area, there could be disease.  Do the benefits out weight the risks?

     What kinds of trees do Jefferson/mole Salamanders like in their forests?   Is it Maple and Beech and why?

     Dead standing trees and their role in the lives of amphibians, if you know more, that could be applied to this body of knowledge that we are trying to amass, please let us know.

Web-sites & list servers that have been noted to me so far.

Flatwoods Salamander Management Plan - Florida;

Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) web site ( and post your request for information on their list serve.

Canadian Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Network (CARC-NET)

Froglog, a newsletter by - John W. Wilkinson, International Coordinator Declining Amphibian Populations Task Force  Department of Biological Sciences The Open University   Walton Hall   Milton Keynes  Buckinghamshire, MK7 6AA, UK
Tel(UK) 01908 - 652274 Fax(UK) 01908 - 654167 E-mail

Allen Salzberg Editor/Publisher  Herp Digest    A Free Weekly Electronic Newsletter on the Latest News on Reptile and Amphibian Science and Conservation

From BiblioLine, Biodiversity Resource Center at National Information Services Corporation  -

Erelli, Mark Vernal Pool Association  Vernal Pool Association - Mole Salamanders.  

Internet URL:

Books - Studies - referred to so far;

Salamanders of the United States and Canada. By James Petranka.
Smithsonian Press. Has natural history information for each species.

Semlitsch, Raymond D., David E. Scott, Joseph H. K. Peachmann and J. Whitfield Gibbons. 1996. Structure and dynamics of an amphibian community Evidence from a 16-year study of a natural pond. pp. 217-248. In (eds.)  Long-Term Studies of Vertebrate Communities. Academic Press

Semlitsch, R.D. 1998. Biological delineation of terrestrial buffer zones for pond-breeding salamanders. Conservation Biology. 12 (5)1113-1119.

Semlitsch,R.D., and J.R. Bodie. 1998. Are small, isolated wetlands  expendable? Conservation Biology 121129-1133.

Not had a chance to view the above material - is it on the web somewhere or someone already got it in electronic form that will share the parts that relate to the issues on this web-page?

Ephemeral Wetlands - a Vanishing Habitat - the brochure.  The Conservation Foundation, assisted by a variety of folks, has also produced a brochure on ephemeral wetlands.  Hard copies of this brochure are available from the EPA by contacting Mery Jackson at 312-886-3717 or, or from the Center for Reptile and Amphibian Conservation and Management, host of this page, at or 219-481-5725.  When requesting the brochure, please only request the number that you feel you can actually use, as quantities are limited.

The PDF version of the brochure is also be available at

From BiblioLine, Biodiversity Resource Center at National Information Services Corporation  -

Babcock, Sharon K.;   Blais, Jennifer L.   Caudal vertebral development and morphology in three salamanders with complex life cycles (Ambystoma jeffersonianum, Hemidactylium scutatum, and Desmognathus ocoee)  Journal of Morphology,  247(2): 142-159.
2001, 11 figs.; 4 tables.  ISSN: 0022-2887

Wells, Christopher S.;   Harris, Reid N.   Activity level and the tradeoff between growth and survival in the salamanders Ambystoma
 jeffersonianum and Hemidactylium scutatum.  Herpetologica,
57(1): 116-127. 2001  2 tables; 4 figs.    ISSN: 0018-0831

Semlitsch, Raymond D.   Delineacion biologica de zonas terrestres de amortiguamiento para salamandras con reproduccion en charcas.
[Biological delineation of terrestrial buffer zones for pond-breeding salamanders.]  Conservation Biology,  12(5):    1113-1119. 1998.
ISSN: 0888-8892

Brodman, Robert   Effects of intraguild interactions on fitness and microhabitat use of larval Ambystoma salamanders.  Copeia,  1996(2): 372-378. 1996.  4 tab.   ISSN: 0045-8511

Univ. Mass.,  96p.  1990. WR 225

 68(3): 285. 1987. Abstract only. WR 207  ISSN: 0012-9623

Copeia,  1986(2): 454-466. 1986. WR 202   ISSN: 0045-8511

Stauffer, Jay R., Jr.; J. Edward Gates and William L. Goodfellow

Thompson, Edward L. and J. Edward Gates   BREEDING POOL
 ISSN: 0030-1299

Thomspon, Edward L.; J. Edward Gates and Gary J. Taylor
Journal of Herpetology,  14(2): 113-120. 6 June 1980. WR 178
ISSN: 0022-1511



Persons who we need contact info for.

Leslie Anthony (Lowcock)

Wayne Weller

Leslie Rye

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