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© 2019 by Vernal Pool Association. 

The Vernal Pool Association, Inc is a 501(c)3 corporation

PO Box 2295

Peabody, MA 01960

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Four-toed Salamander
Hemidactylium scutatum
Adults

The four-toed salamander (2-3.5") is a small reddish-brown salamander easily identified by: a) its having four toes on each of its feet, b) its white belly speckled with black (p. 13), c) costal groves that meet along the spine in a herringbone pattern, and d) the distinctive constriction at the base of its tail.  This small salamander breeds in various types of wetlands, but requires mounds of sphagnum moss for nest building.  Vernal pools and other wetlands (such as red maple swamps) with dense hummocks of sphagnum moss are used.  The animal is active at night; by day it seeks cover under logs and other objects.  It feeds on spiders, springtails and various small insects.  The tail of the four-toed salamander will break off at the base-constriction if the animal is handled roughly or seized by a predator.  The tail wiggles about and distracts the predator while the salamander escapes.

Eggs & Larvae

It is believed that mating takes place in the late summer and early fall with the male producing spermatophores from which the female picks up sperm in her cloaca.  The following spring, when the animals emerge from hibernation, the female migrates to a vernal pool about the same time that spotted salamanders migrate.  The female constructs a nest above the water within sphagnum moss.  She produces between 20-40 eggs and generally remains with them until hatching. Larvae hatch about 5 weeks after deposition.  The larvae wiggle from the nest and drop down into the pooled water.  They develop for about six weeks before absorbing their gills and emerging as a juvenile on land.  The young four-toed salamanders disperse into the forest surrounding the breeding habitat.

Four-toed salamanders breed almost exclusively in sphagnum moss hummocks, which can often be found in vernal pools. Females create a nest several inches above the water in a sphagnum hummock, and will guard the nest through hatching.