Natural History Topic of the Month
This was a busy weekend here in Tennessee—for us. My wife hosted what she calls a Rookie Roundup for newer members of Sisters on the Fly. They had activities like practicing backing their trailers, Dutch oven cooking, a trip to the gun range, and—the focal point of this post—a hayride to explore a local cave. It is not a big cave, but it goes back into the hillside about 100 yards—far enough to be dark. It is also deep enough to experience the more or less constant cool temperature of the cave.
Guide and local property owner Mike explained that the cave had served as shelter for Native Americans and that artifacts had been found in the stream running out of the cave as well as in the cave. He also mentioned that there had been several incidents of trespassers sneaking into the cave late at night and digging for relics.
Mike led a group back into the cave until we came to the “Eye of the Needle,” which, Mike explained, provided access to the rest of the cave. We were not prepared for serious spelunking; this is where we stopped.
Back at the entrance to the cave we encountered a Cave Salamander. These little amphibians are slender, rusty red and lightly spotted long-tailed salamanders that live in the cool twilight zone of cave entrances and in the surrounding creeks and woodlands. Their color tends to blend in with leaves and other debris near the entrance to a cave. Adults are four to seven inches long, including the tail which may be longer than the body.
The Cave Salamander’s environment is limited to limestone-rich areas from western Virginia and West Virginia south into Tennessee and northern Alabama and as far west a northeastern Oklahoma.
Typical amphibians, they lay up to 90 eggs in streams, usually attached to the underside of a rock. The larvae, similar to tadpoles, are quite small until they begin to transform into an adult. Many eggs and tadpoles become food for predatory insects and other creatures. It takes approximately one year for the larvae to grow into adults.
While exploring their environment, Cave Salamanders can use their somewhat prehensile tail to assist them while climbing around through rocks.
Salamanders, like frogs, require a clean, natural environment to thrive. Their presence suggests that the water and surrounding areas are not polluted and free of pesticides or other contaminates. Typically, they feed on tiny organisms that they find in the streams and under forest debris.
For those of you who have to know: Scientific Name – Eurycea lucifuga
A group of visiting ladies get to explore a cave and encounter a Cave Salamander.