Category Archives: seasonal: fall

Finding Salamanders for Fun and Study: Where to Look and How To Handle For Your Safety And Theirs

Northern Two Lined Salamander

Lungless salamanders, like the one above, breathe through the mucous membrane in their mouth and throat and through their skin. Moisture is especially important to lungless salamanders, because their skin must be wet in order to absorb oxygen. These animals like to stay protected but may venture out when the air is very humid. I guess that is why we found him out on that drizzly day.

Northern Two Lined Salamander

Northern two-lined salamander found not too far from my house. Isn’t it cute?

Here is an activity to get the kids outside. Take them on a fun salamander hunt. Your kids probably won’t need much convincing but you can get them excited by telling them a few cool facts about salamanders.

1. Salamanders can drop off their tails to escape predators. This is called tail autotomy. The disconnected tale wiggles around and provides a distraction so the salamander can escape.

2. Salamanders can grow back a missing tail! It can also re-grow a missing leg!!

3. Salamanders regularly shed the outer layer of their skin (the epidermis) as they grow, and then eat it.

4. The skin of salamanders secretes mucus, which helps keep the animal moist when not in the water.

5. Salamanders can secrete poison from glands in their skin in order to be an undesirable meal. (more about that below)

Where to look for salamanders

Because a salamander’s skin must stay moist, look for adult salamanders in places where the earth is damp such as: under leaves, under logs, or near a wetland (stream, pond, swamp, marsh). If you do look under logs, be sure to replace the log back the way you found it being careful not to squish any living organism in the process.

Because salamanders are nocturnal (which means they are active mostly at night), you might also try hunting at night.

Perhaps you have come across one while doing yard work, working in your garden or while hiking through the woods.

Northern Two Lined Salamander on my finger

Most salamanders have four toes on their front legs and five on their rear legs. This guy has 5 toes on its back legs; they are just hard to see in this photo.

Be kind to these little critters:

Handling suggestions for salamanders

Make sure you wash your hands before and after touching a salamander (or any amphibian). Wash your hands beforehand to remove any moisturizing lotion, suntan lotion, insect repellent, soap residue, or toxins from other amphibians. Salamanders are very sensitive to such things.

Handling should be kept to a minimum. When I show salamanders to children, I like to let the salamander walk on my hand rather than me “holding it”. You don’t want to squeeze any part of its delicate body.

Salamanders need to be kept cool. Also, they shouldn’t be left out in the sun because their skin will dry out. Mist its skin as necessary.

Never hold a salamander by its tail; it can break off. Although it can grow it back, it’s better for it not to have to.

Protect yourself:

Always wash your hands after handling amphibians because they have glands in their skin that secrete chemicals. (Salamanders, frogs, toads and newts are amphibians.)

Some of these chemicals are very nasty tasting. Your dog or cat may have discovered this. (That guy just didn’t want to be eaten.)

Some chemicals may cause skin or eye irritation. Don’t take any chances, wash your hands.

Some may actually kill (the poison-dart frogs of Central America).

Among the native amphibians of the United States, the two amphibians of greatest concern are giant toads (also called cane toads, marine toads, aga toads; Bufo marinus)- Common in some parts of FL. and the western newts of the genus, Taricha (found on the west coast of the U.S.).

Proper hand washing after handling should also prevent any problems with infection from Salmonella (bacteria that makes you sick).

This website http://therealowner.com/reptiles-amphibians/caring-for-salamanders/

Has good advice on how to care for your temporary “pet” once you find it.

For more information presented in a kid friendly way, check out this website:

http://www.thorp.k12.wi.us/~steinbach/limnology_oceanography/student_work/Salamanders/index.html

Fun To Make Autumn Leaf Mobile

Fall is such a pleasant time for me. I really enjoy the cooler temperatures and the changing colors of the foliage. When a gust of wind comes along and the leaves rain down, I smile. I guess that is why I like these mobiles so much. It is like being outside even when I have to be inside.

Try using the leaf stem called the petiole (if long enough) to tie the leaf to the branch.

Salvaged copper wire can be used to hang your mobile or use whatever you have on hand.
How to: Spend a pleasant afternoon collecting your favorite leaves. Take a walk perhaps with your son or daughter and search for the best specimens. Your theme could be one kind of tree or a variety of trees and colors. Also, find a small branch from which you will hang your leaves.
During your walk you could introduce a few vocabulary words and a bit of science. Mention deciduous plants are the plants that drop their leaves in preparation of the coming winter. Evergreen plants like pine trees and hollies stay green throughout the winter: they lose leaves too but not all at once. Abscission is the process by which leaves are shed.
When you get home, and if the leaf isn’t completely dried out, you can use the leaf’s petiole (the stem part) to tie the leaf to the branch. Alternatively, glue the leaves directly onto the branch. Clamp with a cloths pin until the glue dries.

These ginkgo leaves are so beautiful. On that day the ground was painted yellow from fallen ginkgo leaves. The shadows are beautiful too.
Another option is to hang the leaves from pieces of string, thread or fishing line.  You might be able to salvage some fishing line. I’ve found some in the past near fishing spots and saved it for projects. Plus, I feel good about picking up litter.

I wish I had made this ginkgo leaf mobile with thread instead of this string because the thread would be almost invisible.

Easy To Make Natural Bird Feeders

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These pine-cone bird feeders are a classic. My family enjoys making them year after year.

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Although it has a bean-like fruit, the Trumpet-Creeper is a member of the Bignonia family.

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The Sweetgum tree is found predominantly in the South-Eastern United States.

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When it is cold outside, my family likes to make these beautiful bird feeders. We make many different types and “decorate” a tree for the birds. We picked an evergreen tree that we can see from inside our cozy house. It is fun to watch and see what birds find our treats. This is a good time to learn the names of the visiting birds. They especially appreciate it when there is snow covering the ground. Sometimes when we are done with our Christmas tree (real not artificial), we place it on our porch to decorate for a second time around.

How-2: Gather your pine cones and seedpods. I like to use a variety of sizes. Spread shortening, lard, suet, or peanut butter all over the pine cones, around the Sweetgum pods and inside the Trumpet-Creeper pod. Next sprinkle with one or more of the following: oatmeal, cornmeal, birdseeds, sunflower seeds, and millet. Mix and match to please a variety of taste buds. If you really want to treat your feathered visitors, add small pieces of dried fruit.