The Science behind Salamander Season

As spring approaches, we await sleeping salamanders to wake up, leave their burrows and march across forests (and sometimes roads) to vernal pools where the females will lay hundreds of eggs. (A vernal pool is like a wicked big puddle.)

Some years ago, author Jennifer Keats Curtis (JKC) accompanied (was dragged by) biologist J. Adam Frederick, Maryland Sea Grant, Assistant Director of Education at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, to one of these temporary bodies of waters in the Catoctin Mountains. He convinced her that she liked amphibians; and, after seeing the beautiful navy blue spotted salamanders and the gooey globs of eggs they deposit, she agreed. Together, they wrote Salamander Season and the talented Shennen Bersani created wonderful illustrations of a girl and her scientist dad. The artwork accompanies real pictures of the salamanders. The book is an illustrated photographic journal.

And now, there is a fabulously interesting and educational primer to accompany the book. This tool, the brainchild of Adam and his team at Maryland Sea Grant, includes numerous resources as well as instructional strategies. While the co-authors note that they’d love everyone to read their book, the primer is usable on its own.

Salamander walks (sometimes called nights) take place all over. Check with local nature centers, local parks, or Audubon groups to find one near you. While you may not have spotted salamanders in your area, you surely have some kind of salamanders nearby!

To see the primer, click here, For more information about the book, Salamander Season, click here,

Thanks to Maryland’s Sea Grant for the use of this photo of a spotted salamander:

Year of the Toads?

By Jennifer Keats Curtis

Even after a book is published, the wondering does not stop.

A few years ago, my friend, J. Adam Frederick, and I wrote the book Salamander Season after he dragged me to a vernal pool to show me the light. Who knew amphibians could be so cool? Luckily for me, Adam is an environmental biologist and the Maryland Sea Grant, Assistant Director for Education at the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology in Baltimore, Maryland. Not only is he happy to answer my questions, he always encourages them.

That is how I knew I could ask him about all the toads that I’ve seen around my house lately. So, I plucked him out of my favorites and called him. (Our ongoing joke is that nobody asks more questions than me. Still, he picked up.) I’ve been in the same house for six years and I’ve seen toads, skinks, and even a couple of treefrogs. But this year, there have been way more toads than I’ve ever seen. During our research of Salamander Season, I remembered Adam mentioning the sensitivity of amphibians to the environment so I called to tell him I’d been wondering if this could be a good sign.

Fortunately, the answer is yes. Adam says amphibians are excellent indicators of what is happening in our environment and as we squeeze their space with development and the use of chemicals that impact water quality, their decline continues. (Plus, it’s been warm and rainy, which the toads also like.)

“I wonder” is often embedded in school lessons to recognize students’ connections and to encourage curiosity. Looks like you don’t have to be a school kid to appreciate the technique, especially if you have a scientist on speed dial.

If you are looking for amphibian-related curriculum or more information, here are a few links. If you know of others, please share in the comments below to help other educators, thanks.

National Science Teacher Association for grades K-4: Amphibian Curriculum

Want to read more? Check out this article about Carroll County (MD) students raising salamanders:

Eastern American Toad on JKC’s deck…one of many this summer.