HAL and I live just 45 minutes from the Smoky eminence National Park in North Carolina. The Smoky eminence are known as the “salamander capital of the world” and there are a total of 30 species of salamander in the park. Hellbender salamander (up to 29 inches! Thanks to the bright black and red salamander, these awesome animals are constantly living in our region.

It is said that every day most of the vertebrates (including us humans) in the park are salamander! Even with so many, in the five year we’ve lived here, HAL and I have only seen a handful of people. Of course, if you look for them, you can see them all the time. But we feel a little intrusive when we turn over logs and lift rocks in streams, just to try to see one of them. We prefer to leave you alone and let these casual be a magical moment. It happened this morning in our backyard!

Since we built our pond, we have seen many frogs visiting it, breeding and settling. But we had no idea we would have salamander! While gardening, HAL discovered a dark gray stain on a pile of loose dirt at the bottom of the ditch. That gray spot was a mole salamander! I didn’t even know there were salamander moles. We lifted him up gently to get him out of the ditch and make sure he was OK.

Salamander roam the forest on rainy nights, heading to the water to breed. We are pretty sure this one was on its way to our pond as we had a heavy rain last night. Not all salamander have the same needs, so we quickly studied the biology and behavior of the mole salamander while the boy got in a plastic container with some water to prevent his skin from drying out. Our little book, Smokey Reptiles and Amphibians, is perfect for identification, but it does not contain much information about behavior and environmental needs. So we turned to the good old Internet. We found that mole salamander spend the day in burrows of small mammals or under moss, feeding on earthworms. Who knew, right? They usually inhabit the coastal plains, and there are several places in the interior where they can be found at altitudes up to 2, 200 feet. We are 2, 150 feet away, so we are lucky to have this guy!

Our backyard is full of tunnels for listed squirrels, so we chose one that has hardly been exploited recently and is not far from our pond. As soon as we put him at the entrance of the construction site, he decided that he was at home and went inside!