The sway of spotted salamanders is a perfect ritual dance for Valentine's Day (which is this week, just in case you need a friendly reminder). A swarm of salamanders can look like a flash mob in Missouri ponds as they all gather around the same time. Herpetologists call it a "Big Night.”
Spotted salamanders have yellow and orange spots that cover them from head to tail. Their legs are large and strong with four or five toes.
During the first warm rains from February into March, spotted salamanders emerge from their woodland burrows and head to a nearby pond for mating. Males make the trek first and females arrive later. If you're out near a pond at this time, you may first hear a small rustle in the wet leaves. And if you shine a flashlight on the pond, you may see hundreds of spotted salamanders swimming and dancing in the water.
Spotted salamanders spend most of their time on land in the forest -- on the ground and under leaves -- and are rarely seen. They only breed in water, and after courtship and laying eggs, they move back out to the woodlands where little is known of their lives.
Most of the young do not survive their time in the pond. But if they make it through transformation and out of the pond, they can live nearly 20 years.
More information about salamanders in Missouri can be found online at mdc.mo.gov.