Thunder Bay·Outdoor Column

Ontario man behind efforts to 'save the salamanders'

An Ottawa-area man says a small, insect-eating amphibian that's fairly common — but rarely seen — in the northwest deserves dedicated protection.

Salamanders not often seen in Ontario, but they are quite common, says Matt Ellerbeck

The red-backed salamander is native to northwestern Ontario. (Submitted by Matt Ellerbeck)

An Ottawa-area man says a small, insect-eating amphibian that's fairly common — but rarely seen — in the northwest deserves dedicated protection.

Matt Ellerbeck is behind the group Save the Salamanders, and says even though people often don't come across them, salamanders need help and more awareness if they are going to survive.

"Habitat loss is a big one, and habitat destruction," he said of two issues facing the salamander, which requires a pristine environment. "Being amphibians,they are extremely sensitive, so any kind of pollution or contaminant in the environment really effects them negatively."
Matt Ellerbeck is behind the group Save The Salamanders. He says the amphibians aren't commonly seen, but are important. (Submitted by Matt Ellerbeck)

Salamanders are also prone to being hit by cars when they cross roadways to get to breeding sites.

Northern Ontario has a half-dozen salamander species, in addition to an aquatic form known as a newt.

"They hide quite a bit and when they are at the surface, they're under cover like rocks and leaf litter and logs," Ellerbeck told CBC Thunder Bay outdoor columnist Gord Ellis. "They don't ... just lay out in the open or wander about."

Ellerbeck started his advocacy group because "I just didn't see much happening in terms of their conservation," he said. "A lot of people don't see them and if you can't see something or think about it, how can you possibly want to help them."
Salamanders and newts face a variety of threats, says Matt Ellerbeck of Save The Salamanders. (Submitted by Matt Ellerbeck)

'Salamanders are our friends'

Ensuring salamander populations thrive has its benefits to people too, Ellerbeck said.

"Salamanders are our friends," he said. "These animals prey on all sorts of pests like mosquitos, some of them eat ticks, and by keeping the numbers of those bugs down, they can help stop the spread of diseases."
Salamanders are beneficial as they prey on pests like mosquitoes and ticks. (Submitted by Matt Ellerbeck)

Aside from large-scale efforts that can support salamander populations, like keeping pollution levels low, Ellerbeck said people can do simple things to help.

"If [you] find salamanders, please don't handle them too much because amphibians have sensitive skin," he said, adding that any chemicals that may be on your hands, like bug spray or sunscreen, can kill them.

Disturbing things in the wilderness like rocks and deadfall also rob salamanders of places to hide from predators and inclement weather, Ellerbeck said.

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