Blue-spotted Salamander, our Chicago River Day Featured Creature

Each year Friends of the Chicago River features a river-dependent species to serve as our Chicago River Day featured creature. This year, we are featuring the beautiful and rarely seen blue-spotted salamander.

Blue-spotted salamanders are an indicator species of ecosystem health, meaning they are senstive and will not thrive in the presence of heavy metals, PCB's, and other pollutants. Blue-spotted salamanders are found throughout the Chicago-Calumet River watershed, a promising signal of the ever-increasing quality of habitat. However, humans are the greatest threat to salamanders worldwide due to water pollution, agriculture and development which contributes to loss of wetlands and deforestation.

Fun, top 10 facts about the blue-spotted salamander!

  1. The earliest salamander species lived before the dinosaurs.

  2. The Americas are home to more species of salamanders than the entire rest of the world combined!

  3. Blue spotted salamanders can be found in the eastern central United States and Canada east to the Atlantic Provinces and northern New England and in the Great Lakes region. They are one of eight salamanders that live in Illinois. Of the eight, only four — the blue-spotted, the eastern tiger, the small-mouthed and the spotted salamander — live in the northeastern part of the state.

  4. The name salamander comes from the Arab term for “lives in fire.” This name came about when salamanders came running out of the logs they had been hiding in when those logs were thrown on a fire.  The blue spotted part of the name comes from the blue-grey spots on its sides, tail and legs that break up the outline of the blue-black body and make it more difficult for its predators to see.

  5. Salamanders are nocturnal. The blue-spotted salamander is very secretive and usually only comes out from cover at night and during damp or rainy weather.

  6. Blue spotted salamanders are mole salamanders, which breathe through their sensitive skin and their lungs.  Not all salamanders have lungs.

  7. They have four toes on their front feet and five on their hind feet.

  8. They have glands on their tails that produces a milky toxin that they secrete when they’re threatened. They can also curl their tails over their body when threatened. If a predator attacks, they will release the toxin into the predator's mouth.

  9. They eat a wide variety of insects along with small invertebrates like slugs, earthworms, spiders, snails and centipedes.

  10. In early spring, they will migrate to vernal ponds. Males arrive first. Vernal ponds make good breeding grounds. Vernal ponds are temporary ponds that form in the spring when the snow melts. Vernal ponds or pools eventually dry out. This prevents predators that might eat the salamanders, like fish and frogs, from establishing themselves. The male will hold the female with his front legs and rub his chin on her head. He then deposits spermatophore (a packet of sperm) on the pond bottom. Next he tries to position the female over the sperm. If all goes well, she will take the sperm in and it will fertilize her eggs.

By participating in our Chicago River Day litter cleanup, you can do your part in protecting the blue-spotted salamanders and all the plants and animals in the Chicago-Calumet River System and the surrounding wetlands, tributaries, and creeks.