Biology at SBC



The students in BIOL 224, General Ecology, are conducting a survey of the adult spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) breeding in the small pond behind the science building.  The salamanders have been breeding successfully in this pond for many years, but the introduction of mosquitofish into the pond four years ago raised concern that the population may not be recruiting any new individuals.

This class project is supervised by Biology Professor Linda Fink and by visiting naturalist Mike Hayslett.   Ahead of the first warm spring rain, we installed drift fences and had a practice drill.  On 1 March, warm afternoon temperatures and rain starting at dinner time provided perfect conditions, and the class assembled in the lab at 6:30pm.

News stories about this project appeared on the SBC news site and in the Amherst New Era Progress.

In late February we had a practice run.  Without rain and without salamanders, it was a breeze.

All photographs of the salamander project were taken by Linda Fink and by Suzanne Ramsey of SBC College Relations




7:00pm I went out to catch any early movers... Went clockwise starting at line D. Found 2 at D, 1 at C, 1 at A, 0 at F and then we got to E....! Here we found almost 20 in E1, E2...and so on all the way up to E5. We radioed in to inform everyone it was the big night.  J.W.

Everyone had a job.


Mike Hayslett supervised the lab processing


Professor Fink photographed the salamanders





The salamanders coming from lines C,D and A seemed larger than the salamanders at E and F.   J.W.

What I observed is that there were very few young, small ones. The females are bigger than the males, they were a lot fatter, because of the eggs. Some of them had very big spots, while others had smaller ones. R.P.

A salamander with a trifurcated toe

A female with virtually no spots




As more and more came into the lab, and there was a bigger backup, I moved to working only with the intake of the salamanders. It was a neat job because I was able to see and document every salamander that was coming into the lab. We assigned each salamander an individual identification number, and we recorded the trap it came from and the time...After we assigned each salamander their identification number, we sent them off to a processing group.... In 4 hours, I was able to handle over 200 salamanders. ...The only thing that I wasn't too happy about was that at one point in processing I opened a bag full of salamanders, and a HUGE FURRY SPIDER came crawling out of the bag and went up my sleeve. That wasn't cool. L.M.


This project was a great learning experience. It opened my eyes to the importance of vernal pools and small ponds. Without these habitats these spotted salamanders couldn't exist.  J.S.


I did not think that spending 6:30pm to 1:00 am would be fun while collecting salamanders, but I actually had fun! I was very tired at the end, but it was a good experience and I will never forget it. BC.

Well this certainly was a life experience and I realize that I love handling these critters. I thought they looked like cartoon characters. ... I LOVE SALAMANDERS. S.D.


It was really fun to get to work with other professors on such an equal level. They were all a lot of fun to work with. The class really stepped up and did a great job last night.  J.W.

At one time in the night the bags were covering half of the lab table. It was really neat to go into the lab and see everybody working so hard, together, and everyone was very excited.  C.C.




I stood at the top of the creek bed literally watching some emerge from the soil for the first time, and others who would quickly crawl across the leaf bed until reaching the dam. The tall concrete dam, which I later measured to be 80 cm high, would be the most difficult part of the salamanders' migration to the pond. Almost all salamanders would try to climb the cement wall. Most would fail, but some were determined and made it to a little ledge. The ledge was so wet and had lots of overflowing water from the dam that most would fall off the dam into the pit at the bottom of the cement. N.P.

I finally got to go back outside and see the action at the pond as we released about 20 salamanders per bucket. The bottom of the pond was entirely covered in salamanders. And they WERE STILL COMING!  It is amazing what they will crawl through to get to their pond. ... I knew I wanted to do field biology and I wanted to work directly for the animal's benefit but this was incredible. I can't wait to go out in the field. S.R.


The salamanders were much larger and more active than I originally expected. I thought they would be rather slow-moving, but the smaller individuals were pretty quick. It also surprised me when they began making noise, like little squeaking sounds. It was also interesting to see how large the entire population was. Anywhere a light shined on the immigration side of the fence there would be at least one salamander moving through the leaf litter. M.H.




The adventure last night also changed my opinion about fieldwork. Before this, I had always believed I would dislike intense, hands-on work outdoors. But after last night, even in such rough, rainy conditions, I really enjoyed mystelf. Although I don't really see such intense field work as a career, it is definitely something I would enjoy taking part in again. It was nice to get away from textbooks and actually see biology working and undergoing its natural course. M.H.





At 7:45 I arrived at Line E, where I spent the next 3-1/2 hours. When I first got there, things were crazy... We set to work trying to get ahead of the salamanders, but as soon as we made it down the line, bagging the salamanders, the pits had filled back up. It was easy enough at first to label the bags, fill them with leaves, and put the salamanders in them, but then everything got wet. L.H.

All I could think about all night was - this is what I want to do! Inside the lab, everyone was so interested in the study we were doing, that the energy in the lab was overwhelming. N.P.

I really respect those people who stayed late who weren't in the class. That shows true dedication to science! D.M.

captured, sexed and measured or weighed!

This summer we will measure recruitment by capturing new metamorph salamanders as they leave the pond.

We thank everyone who helped us during the Big Night: Professors Sarah Mabey, Janet Steven and Dan Gottlieb, students Brittany Lambert, Jennifer Summerfield, Allison Bailey, Sarah Goldstein, Amanda Baker; Tim Kasper, Chris and Adia Szell and Jane.

More about our salamander study...


Site maintained by L.S. Fink
Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar VA 24595
Last modified May 2010