What Do Turkeys and Redbacked Salamanders Have in Common?

The fall season is prime herping time, searching for amphibians and reptiles so often hidden in the woods and creeks across our area.

Earlier this month, the Philly Naturalists went on just such an expedition in the Historic Rittenhouse Town section of the Wissahickon Valley to participate in a Citizen Science project collecting data for the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptiles Survey. The event was hosted by Steve Jones of the Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers, and began with an overview of regional Amphibians and Reptiles by urban herping expert, Billy Brown. If you’re looking for a way to amp yourself up for nature on that drive or bus ride to your hiking site, Billy and his friend Tony Croasdale host a podcast with a Philly flavor but global scope called Urban Wildlife — check it out!

To collect data for our survey, we headed up the hill from the Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers headquarters, slowly and gently lifting the newly fallen leaves, rocks, and logs along the path. And soon enough, there it was: a Redbacked Salamander! Quite a few, as it turned out. Redbacked Salamanders are of the family Plethodontidae that lack lungs and instead breathe through their wet skin, which is why we can see them more often in the fall and spring seasons, as they tend to be out and about looking for food in moist conditions. If it’s too dry, they will burrow or find other ways to seek the moisture needed to survive. Billy placed one in a jar for us to observe its beautiful red and brown coloring and cute face and legs. He also gave us a herping tip: when you release what you caught, put it next to the rock or log where it was found. It will wiggle its way back, avoiding any potential of being harmed.

Redbacked salamanders love to eat larvae, snails, worms, small invertebrates and lots of other things. So, what likes to snack on Redbacked Salamanders? You guessed, it TURKEYS! Redbacked Salamanders and turkeys share a food chain. Check out this article I found from the Nature Conservancy, about what turkeys like to eat, which is A LOT. Turkeys are omnivores and eat berries, seeds, flowers, etc. and sometimes need a bit of protein from grasshoppers, frogs, lizards, and salamanders! So, at your Friendsgiving when you carve into that deep fried or dry brined or smoked or however you like it baked turkey this year, you can thank a healthy ecosystem for bringing it to your table (if it’s a wild turkey, that is).

Oh, one more thing! Before heading out to herp, decide if you’re going to look and observe, or catch. The catching and releasing of amphibians and reptiles is encouraged by the PA Fish and Boat Commission, but to catch them, get yourself a fishing license first. For $22.90, you can enjoy fishing and herping all year long. Licenses for 2020 go on sale December 1st and make a great holiday gift!