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Searching for salamanders at Indian Creek MetroPark, a sign of a healthy environment

man holds plastic tub and shines flashlight on a salamander as others look on
Addy Werling
MetroParks of Butler County
MetroParks staff check out a salamander during the 2023 migration season.

On a recent warm evening — more spring-like than February — dozens of small, dark salamanders peeked their heads out of their forest habitats. Last week's rain followed by 70-degree temperatures told the amphibians the time was right to make their annual migration to nearby wetlands to breed.

Staff at MetroParks of Butler County were on hand at Indian Creek MetroPark in Reilly near Oxford to witness the migration. They've been studying and tracking salamanders at the park for four or five years, and maybe even longer, according to Outdoor Education Programs Coordinator Uriah St. John.

"It's the migration of mole salamanders, and mole salamanders are a number of different species that spend (about) 11 months out of the year underground in forest and prairies. They come out in early spring when it's warm and wet to come to these vernal pools, which are wetlands inside the forest, to lay their eggs and mate," he explains.

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Salamanders are good indicators of how the wetlands and park are doing ecologically because they're sensitive to pollution.

spotted salamander in a plastic tub
Addy Werling
MetroParks of Butler County
A spotted salamander captured briefly during the spring migration at Indian Creek MetroPark.

"The fact that there's so many of these salamanders tells us that the park is healthy, there isn't a lot of pollution going on," says St. John. "It also tells us that there's very likely a robust food chain going on in the park."

Salamanders are a food source for owls and other birds, as well as raccoons, fox and more. Plus, they help eat other animals and insects that also lay their eggs and breed in the vernal pools, like mosquitos.

St. John says MetroParks observed at least 50 salamanders in 15 minutes at one vernal pool — a good indication the population is plentiful and healthy, given Indian Creek, he says, isn't a very large park.

Park staff keep track of the different species they observe — two of the most common are the spotted salamander and the red-backed salamander. They also track various frog species and monitor the area for disturbances, water levels, and ecological changes.

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He enjoys teaching people about the salamander migration.

"Most people I've talked to ... until you have someone tell you, you have no idea that there's this huge migration of salamanders happening every spring. It's really great to be able to keep track of that and be able to introduce people and show that to them."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.