Spotting Spot Patterns

March 2, 2015
A hand holding a spotted salamander. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

The spots on adult spotted salamanders are like fingerprints on humans: each salamander has its own unique constellation of markings. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

The spots on adult spotted salamanders are like fingerprints on humans: each salamander has its own unique constellation of markings, which can be used to tell that individual apart from all the others. Starting in 2015, we’re embarking on a special project to create a photographic database of individual spotted salamanders at well-established amphibian road crossings associated with our Salamander Crossing Brigades. Over time, these spot pattern records could provide meaningful information on year-to-year survival in spotted salamander populations that must cross roads to reach their breeding pools. Read on for tips on how to take photos for inclusion in the database!

Stick With Spotties

Although we love to see and share photos of all kinds of amphibians, only spotted salamanders have one-of-a-kind markings, so only spotted salamander photos will be included in this database.

Two side-by-side pictures of the same spotted salamander, taken two weeks apart.

This spotted salamander was found at the North Lincoln Street road crossing in Keene on both 4/11/14 (left) and 4/27/14 (right). Note the distinctive spot pattern on the animal’s head and upper back, which is unique to this individual.

Time After Time

Spotted salamanders are creatures of habit, returning to the same breeding sites year after year. The value of the spot pattern database lies in comparing pictures from the same sites from one year to the next, and seeing which individual salamanders re-appear. Therefore, we strongly encourage you to send pictures from our long-established crossing sites, or from sites that you re-visit year after year.

Head Shots

The best way to identify a spot pattern is by looking at the top of a salamander’s head and upper back, so take your shot from above, and make sure the head and back are clearly visible and in focus. You’ll get a better shot if you have a friend shine a light on the salamander while you take the picture, though you may need to experiment with the angle of the light to minimize glare. If you’re at an established crossing, check with your Site Coordinator to see if they have a specialized “lightbox” for salamander photography.

One and Done

To minimize confusion, please send just one photo per salamander.

A spotted salamander sits in a lightbox, waiting to be photographed. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Some crossing sites may have a “lightbox” — a small cooler modified with battery-powered LED lights — for easier salamander photography. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Don’t Forget the Data!

These photos are only as useful as the data that come with them. Be sure to include:

  1. the date the photo was taken, including the year;
  2. the name of the crossing site; and
  3. a unique number for each individual salamander, to distinguish it from the other photos taken on the same night at the same crossing.

Without this information, your photo is just a photo. With this information, your photo is data! Ideally, you’ll re-name the photo file to include all three pieces of information. Ex: ElmSt_041515_1.jpg; ElmSt_041515_2.jpg; and so forth. Send photos and accompanying information to Brett Amy Thelen by email.

File Size Specs

If you’re a tech-savvy person who knows about such things, please re-size your photos so they’re approximately 600 x 900 pixels each: bigger than a thumbnail, smaller than a poster! If you don’t know the first thing about re-sizing photos, just send them along as is, and we’ll make them work.

Contact Us

For more information on this or any other aspect of our Salamander Crossing Brigades, please contact Brett Amy Thelen at (603) 358-2065 or by email.