Salamanders of Ijams
Ijams is a haven for many amphibians, especially salamanders! The grounds provide excellent habitat for them, from ponds, logs, and rocks to wet leaf litter and limestone caverns. Ijams has salamanders big and small, and is home to one that is being considered for the endangered species list: The Berry Cave salamander. These resources can you help learn more about the species found at Ijams.
Berry Cave Salamander
The Berry Cave salamander has a distinctive dark spot or stripe on the upper portion of the throat. It has a wider head and a flatter snout, and is larger in size than other cave-dwelling salamanders. Due to living in darkness, it has smaller eyes. Gills are long and pinkish, but may become bright red when the salamander is handled or otherwise stressed. The Berry Cave salamander has relatively slender, moderately long limbs. Its tail is laterally compressed and has a distinct fin that extends onto its back, causing it to appear oar-like.
Little is known about the habitat requirements of the Berry Cave salamander. They typically are found in quiet pools, varying in depth from just a few centimeters to over a meter, and some have been found in pools more than four meters deep. They rarely are found outside of cave environments. Their use of cover varies between caves, but Berry Cave salamanders often seek refuge in crevices, covered areas, and overhanging ledges. Their diet is mostly invertebrates and other salamanders.
These salamanders are found in the limestone caverns running underneath the Ijams grounds. There is a gated opening of one cave in Hayworth Hollow on the quarry side of the grounds. While there is no public access, if you shine a light beyond this gate, you’ll see (and feel) the muddy, cool environment these salamanders call home.
While the Berry Cave salamander is not on the endangered species list, it is listed as a candidate due to its limited habitat and susceptibility to poor water quality. Limestone quarry operations conducted at Mead’s and Ross Marble Quarries in the first half of the 20th century have heavily impacted the Berry Cave salamanders at Ijams, reducing the population and causing chemical burns on living salamanders. This is caused by limestone waste, which dissolves and leaches into the soil when it rains. The runoff affects the pH, making the soil very basic, or alkaline.
As part of Ijams’ conservation efforts, the Natural Resources team is working to restore an area called the Lime Bowl, which was a quarry dumpsite. The team has built catch basins to reduce the alkalinity of the water running down the side of the bowl. The team also has amended the soil and planted species in the bottom of the bowl to create a cedar glade habitat that will help balance the water leaching into the soil.