Another amphibian that breeds in early spring is the strikingly marked spotted salamander, A. maculatum. Reaching 9 ¾ inches in length, these stout animals are jet black with yellow spots, and have been observed crossing snow during breeding migrations (I find them in ponds in southern NY in mid-March).
Amazingly, a species of green algae, Oophila amblystomatis, colonizes the spotted salamander’s globular egg masses. The algae most likely utilizes carbon dioxide and ammonia produced by the developing salamander embryos, and may in turn provide the embryos with oxygen (although the amount released is quite low). There is speculation that the algae may produce a growth factor that benefits the embryos, but more research is needed. In any event, experiments have shown that egg masses with this algae hatch faster, and with a higher survivorship, than do those lacking the algae. Conversely, algae growth slows markedly if the embryos are removed from the egg mass upon which it is established.
Spotted salamanders make interesting pets, and, while adapted to a burrowing lifestyle, adjust well to life above ground. Properly cared for, they can live for over 25 years. I will discuss them further in a future article. Until then, please write me with your own observations and questions. Thanks. Until next time, Frank.
More detailed information on this unique relationship is available at: