One early morning I was walking around the “tear drop” drive at the main entrance of the Museum and spotted a salamander crossing the pavement, headed toward the pine forest. He was not afraid nor did he try to run away, so I pulled out my phone and snapped his picture. I immediately fell in love with this little guy. He was about four inches long, and deep orange with black irregular spotting down his back. I explained to him that the drive was not a good place to hang out and that he might get run over. Then I picked him up and placed him in the grass by a rock retaining wall, just below the pine forest. I decided to name him Sal.
I said “so long Sal!”
He just kind of sat there looking at me until I walked away. I felt I had made a friend, though it’s a strange relationship, he doesn’t say very much.
I thought about Sal all day and what we had in common. He is skinny—I am skinny. I have red hair—he has an orange body. And then I wondered about his home. Turns out Sal values his privacy: he prefers caves and crevices. You generally won’t see Sal during the day because he is nocturnal—coming out from the limestone rock to feed at night on small insects. Now, I myself have never eaten an insect of any kind, but that seems to be all Sal likes. He must a picky eater.
If you were to look him up, his full common name is “spotted tail cave salamander.” His scientific name is Eurycea lucifuga. I didn’t feel that suited him, however, so we will just stick with the name Sal. Despite the name, you will find that salamanders like Sal inhabit many places other than caves; they can live along a stream bed, face of a cliff, or in heavily wooded areas that contain limestone formations. However, he can only be found in regions that have exposed limestone—such as highly localized portions of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky. So I have come to the conclusion the Sal is a high-maintenance kind of fellow, with high standards on where he lives and what he eats.
Fortunately, the grounds here at Crystal Bridges are ideal for cave salamanders, and we’re fortunate to be able to host Sal and his (or her) extended family. If you should see Sal when you’re out walking, be sure to tell him I said Hi.