This article was originally published on April 12, 2022 on The Restless Viking website.
Were you aware of the Blue Spotted Salamander’s migration? I had no idea about the upper peninsula peril they had endured until I was listening to Morning Edition on National Public Radio. One Northern Michigan University student, Eli Bieri, had made an incredible impact on this amphibian’s survival. I was captivated and wanted to learn more.
A Blue Spotted Salamander migrated across a Michigan’s upper peninsula road.
Photo Credit: Superior Watershed Partnership
That night I saw a Facebook post about the Blue Spotted Salamanders’ migration from Mitchell Tower, who had once been in my first grade class. I messaged Mitch and he met with me. Mitch recounted how he had happened upon the scientific observation of the Blue Spotted Salamanders as they migrated across a dangerous road. I was thrilled to get a first hand, “behind the curtain” story of the experience of watching these tiny creatures.
Excited for his college tour at Northern Michigan University and wanting to become familiar with the area, Mitchell Tower had circled the small peninsula north of the city, Marquette. The Presque Isle Park juts out into Lake Superior. A single road, Peter White Drive, loops the perimeter of the peninsula.
Citizen Science Salamander Survey
Mitchell recounted their conversation. “The lady explained that a freshman (Eli Bieri) had counted 400 flattened blue spotted salamanders along Peter White Drive in 2018. He persuaded local officials and NMU to close the road at night so the salamanders could migrate safely. After closing the road in the spring (8:00pm – 8:00am) only 3 amphibians had perished.” Mitchell continued, “They (blue spotted salamanders) have to lay their eggs in the water, but had been hibernating in the woods across the road.”
This is Mitchell’s observation recording sheet for volunteers.
Photo Credit: Mitchell Tower
“I had never seen a salamander.” Mitchell admitted, “They are so small! I must have seen at least 75 that night.” I adored Mitchell’s enthusiasm. We agreed that very few people have actually spied salamanders as they are fossorial, which means they spend most of their 20 year life-span underground.
A blue spotted salamander crawls over the snow. (center)
Photo Credit: Mitchell Tower
After the first warm rains of spring, the blue spotted salamanders temporarily migrate from the woodlands to a bog for mating and egg laying. There are over 600 varieties of salamanders. Most lay a few eggs in each clutch, but the blue spotted salamander only lays one egg. These embryos hatch in one-two months depending on the temperature.
Blue Spotted Salamanders have excellent sight. They taste and smell using their tongues. Just like other salamanders, the Blue Spotted breed is deaf, but can sense vibrations in the soil.
Photo Credit: Mitchell Tower
Are Salamanders Poisonous?
All 600 species of salamanders have smooth, moist skin. They produce mucous which seeps through their membranes encasing their body as protection. However, this moisture carries toxins. If one were to pick up a salamander and then rub one’s eyes, these toxins could cause swelling and irritation. Dogs often have a reaction if they chew on or eat the amphibian. Younger salamanders produce more toxins than older ones.
Do Salamanders Bite?
Yes. If they feel threatened, a salamander will bite. They have 55-78 teeth, but salamanders do not carry any venom. So, their bite is considered harmless, however I can’t help but think that a nip from a salamander would be uncomfortable!
What Do Salamanders Eat?
Salamanders are considered helpful for yards and gardens. They eat a variety of insects, slugs, worms and other small invertebrates.
The Salamander Advocate – Eli Bieri
On April 5, 2022 when I was listening to National Public Radio a short segment came on about Eli Bieri and the Blue Spotted Salamander. Rachel Martin, the NPR reporter, referred to an article in The Washington Post. As a freshman at Northern Michigan University, Eli Bieri had noticed the demise of the blue spotted salamander during their spring mating season. In academic, university form, he started a research project about the Blue Spotted Salamander’s migration.
Northern Michigan University Student/ Salamander Hero
Photo Credit: Eli Bieri’s Face Book Page
Eli had shared, “Most people didn’t even know they (Blue Spotted Salamanders) were there. I was happy to share in the magic.” Eli has headed to Fiji and then plans to start his master’s degree on how frogs respond to wildfires in Australia. (He was unable to be contacted for this article.)
According to The Washington Post‘s article, the city of Marquette now hosts a Blue Spotted Salamander Festival which was spearheaded by local, Dan Barrington. He and his friend, Elizabeth “Puck” Bates, coordinate the events: hikes, an art show and a brewery features a salamander beer.
I met Mitchell Tower as an elementary student when he attended Bushnell Elementary. I was fortunate to have him in my first grade class. Mitch has always gone out of his way for others. He has been creative and fun. I have been able to see Mitchell grow up in our community. Scouting had been an integral part of his and his brother’s lives where their dad was a leader. Mitchell had earned his Eagle Scout rank when he had built a community garden on the Tower family farm in Fallasburg Historical Village. I have enjoyed seeing Mitch star in Lowell High School musicals. So, when I saw his posts about the Blue Spotted Salamander study on Face Book, I had to know more and messaged him. Mitch responded right away and we met later that afternoon! (Again, he went above and beyond for his first grade teacher! What a cool person!)
Photo Credit: Mitchell’s Face Book Account
When we met at a local restaurant to discuss his experience of being a part of the Salamander Study, our conversation flowed easily as we caught up on each others’ lives. He’s planning on becoming an early elementary teacher attending Northern Michigan University this fall, which has been his long time dream. He currently works at Murray Lake Elementary school in Lowell as a para-professional and at a nursing home in Kentwood. His kindness and caring for others has continued to propel him into his career choices. My heart soars and my eyes get misty.
Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube