Daniel Portik, Sean Reilly, David Wake, Michelle Koo of University of California - Berkeley,
Ranger John Lloyd, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District
I was honored to be working with Dr. Wake and the MVZ team. Affectionately referred to as Commander Salamander by his students, Dr. David B. Wake has been a professor in the biological sciences for fifty years mostly at UC-Berkeley, and was the Director at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology for 27 years. His research has primarily focused on the evolution and development of amphibians and reptiles with a special emphasis on salamanders.
Some of his most noteworthy publications have been about Ensatina salamanders as a 'ring species complex' and how ecological environments, geologic barriers, time and genetic divergence have variously influenced the development of differently colored Ensatina subspecies surrounding the Central Valley of California (Pereira et al, 2011). In recent years, Dr. Wake has also written about the worldwide decline of amphibian populations and has been instrumental in the development of salamander information on the Tree of Life Web Project and AmphibiaWeb.
If this sunny-side botanist was going dive into a controversy about rare salamanders, this was a top-notch team to explore the dark forest ahead.
|Yellow-eyed ensatinas were the only subspecies of ensatinas we found in Stevens Canyon|
|The dark side of a Pacific ring-necked snake|
|Bright warning undersides of California newt and Pacific ring-necked snake. A predator would die if it swallowed the first, but not the second. When you consider the darkness of the forest floor, cover objects, and underground habitats of these two herps, perhaps these could be examples of aposematic coloring and Batesian mimicry. Note the 4 toes on the front and 5 toes on the hind feet of the newt - the normal condition to compare to next photo.|
|Unusual six toes on left hind foot of California newt.|
|Unusual webbing behind left hind foot of same California newt.|
I tried to fill the gaps between herps with stories about my recent exciting encounters with mountain lions on local rangelands, but grassland adventures held no weight underneath the looming Douglas firs and we continued our downward march poking under moist objects. I was amazed at how many hidden animals these two researchers were finding in a forest that I formerly considered dark and boring.
Finally we got to the sharp turn on the trail where we most often had seen red-bellied newts on our previous surveys. We spread out to search and I made a beeline to a small ditch alongside the trail, while Daniel went uphill and Sean went downhill.
|Sharp-eyed Daniel found the first two red-bellied newts of the day.|
|A second red-bellied newt - a fine adult specimen.|
|Commander Salamander in the field|
With only the sound of the creek behind us, we waited and zipped up our jackets as we cooled off from the long hike. Looking pensive, Dr. Wake carefully examined the small creature, turned it over several times, and tapped its tiny feet in silence.
Finally we asked, "Is it a red-bellied newt?"
Dr. Wake looked up with a bright smile and responded, "Absolutely!"
Grinning, I nudged Ranger John in the ribs and in my head did an imaginary jig in the creek.
|Herpetologists expect to be wet and cold in the field with beautiful surroundings and sometimes with wonderful surprises about the diversity of life.|
|By the afternoon, few newts of any type were out.|
|Juvenile yellow-eyed ensatinas - spotted jewels barely larger than a Douglas fir needle or a fingernail.|
|With the exception of the two red-bellied newts which were collected to provide genetic samples to determine the origin of this unusual population, all animals were gently placed back in their original habitat.|
To be continued as Of Salamanders and Men.
This post is the seventh in a series on the discovery of red-bellied newts in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. To start at the beginning of the series go to Mystery of the Red-Bellied Newt.
Red-bellied newt, Taricha rivularis
Pacific ring-necked snake, Diadophis punctatus amabilis
Yellow-eyed ensatina, Ensatina eschscholtzii xanthoptica
California slender salamander, Batrachoseps attenuatus
Black salamander, Aneides flavipuncatatus
California newt, Taricha torosa
Pereira, Ricardo J, William B Monahan, David B Wake, 2011, Predictors for reproductive isolation in a ring species complex following genetic and ecological divergence, BMC Evolutionary Biology, 11:194, www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2148/11/194