Nfld. & Labrador

'Don't squish them': Photos on social media show slimy, sticky salamanders in Labrador

When Adam Reid found a salamander outside his house in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, he thought it was a lost pet. But Reid — and many others — were surprised to learn salamanders actually thrive in Labrador.

Many people are surprised at how common the critters are, MUN researcher says

The blue-spotted salamander can mainly be seen by people when it's travelling to its mating ponds in the spring, or back to its hibernation area in the winter. (Submitted by Sean Boyle)

It was late at night when Adam Reid took his dog out and found a little salamander on his front steps. The Happy Valley-Goose Bay man says he panicked, thinking it was an escaped pet, and took it inside. 

"I was like, 'I cannot leave this poor little salamander here,'" Reid said. "It's started getting cold in Labrador. Things get pretty chilly."

Reid made a Facebook post and was surprised to learn that the critters are native to Labrador and even thrive there.

After confirming the salamander — who Reid had affectionately named "Sal" — was in fact going to be OK, he took it out and let it go in his garden. 

"We had our parting words and a few tears were shed by my puppy, who didn't want to let him go. But I put him back in the garden and he went on his way," Reid said.

"Sal, if you're out there, I hope you're doing good, buddy."

A post in the public Concerning Happy Valley-Goose Bay Facebook group sparked an online conversation in which some people realized for the first time that there are salamanders native to Labrador. (Concerning Happy Valley-Goose Bay/Facebook)

After reading Reid's post, said Shylah Ernst, she too saw salamanders on two occasions outside the daycare where she works.

"We found four smaller salamanders inside of an old tire that had some water in the bottom of it," Ernst said. 

Shylah Ernst found four salamanders and some larva in an old tire that had water in it. (Submitted by Shylah Ernst)

One of the amphibians was paraded around the daycare to show the children, Ernst said, and released back to the wild a short time later.

"Of course, they kept trying to pick him up. But we put him in a little container with some grass and sand," Ernst said.

"They looked at him and they played with him in his little basket … they loved him."

Salamanders more common than you'd think

Sean Boyle, a postdoctoral researcher at Memorial University, says people may not realize just how common the creatures are. He said they are an important part of the ecosystem but they are out of sight for almost the entire year. 

"If you think in terms of biomass — which is the total mass of all of the individuals of the species — the biomass of a salamander will greatly outweigh the biomass of moose. So say you have 100 moose, you'll probably have tens of thousands of salamanders that weigh more than all of that combined," Boyle said. 

There are two types of salamanders in Labrador — the two-lined salamander and the blue-spotted salamander. The two-lined salamander is aquatic while the blue-spotted salamander lives mostly on land. 

The blue-spotted salamander mainly lives on land but travels to local ponds to mate and lay eggs. (Submitted by Sean Boyle)

"Amphibians in general are really good at surviving tough conditions," Boyle said. "These two salamanders specifically, they kind of just bury themselves, either in the clear running water … or they'll bury themselves in the leaf litter in the soil and avoid the frost line."

If people see a salamander out and about, Boyle said, they don't need to worry about spooking it, but he recommends avoiding it and not picking it up.

"If you do have to pick them up, just make sure there's absolutely nothing on your hands. So that's no no bug spray, no sunscreen, no moisturizer, anything like that, because it can be very toxic to them."

Salamanders, like all amphibians, breathe through their skin, and their skin can take in chemicals can hinder their ability to breathe, Boyle said.

If people see a salamander, it's most likely wild and not a pet, he said.

"For the most part, if people have pet salamanders, they're not the species that we would have in Canada," Boyle said. "And so the salamanders that you see in the wild would look different than ones that were escaped pets."

Blue-spotted salamanders, like this one in Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick, can be found in Labrador. (Parks Canada)

Ernst said she was surprised to read on social media that people didn't know salamanders were in Labrador, but she said she did grow up seeing them out and about. If people do find them, she said please leave them be. 

"Don't squish them. Put them back. Leave them alone. Let them grow. So some people are afraid of them and they'll like 'uh, step on that,' especially when they're small, but that's a sin. Leave them alone, let them grow. Let them make a home here."

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