Today In Newtopia: Meet the Arboreal Salamander

It's been a rough couple of days.

A California Slender Salamander / Batrachoseps attenuatus: a tiny, dark brown salamander on leaf litter on the forest floor
(Pictured above: A California Slender Salamander, Batrachoseps attenuatus.)

We learned yesterday that a dear friend passed away in a fire. I don't want to dwell on it too much here, but I do want to say that I'm grateful for my walks in the woods, and for the distraction and peace I find there.

Let me share with you a few of the things I saw today.

Hygrocybe laetissima, the Cherry-Red Waxy Cap: A mushroom with a viscid red cap, yellow gills, and a thick yellow stipe

Above is Hygrocybe laetissima, the Cherry-Red Waxy Cap. Hygrocybe species are a bit of a mystery; research shows that they're not saprotrophic (they don't feed on decaying wood,) but nobody's sure what their nutrient source is. There is some speculation that they might have a mutualistic (beneficial to both partners) relationship with moss.

White Cheese Polypore / Tyromyces chioneus, a white shelf-like mushroom exuding whitish droplets of moisture from its pores

This mushroom is new to me, but I believe it to be Tyromyces chioneus, the White Cheese Polypore. This fungus is saprotrophic; it breaks down the lignin in dead wood, leaving behind the white cellulose and causing a phenomenon called "white rot." Those little droplets on the underside are called guttation.

Snowy Waxcaps / Cuphophyllus virgineus, a group of several small, which mushrooms with thick gills and a waxy cap growing among redwood leaf litter

These Snowy Waxcap (Cuphophyllus virgineus) mushrooms fruited in the middle of a big Coast Redwood ring. Like the Cherry-Red Waxy Cap, these are thought to be associated with mosses.

Two black beetles, one on top of the other, in leaf debris on the forest floor

It took me a few days, but today I was finally quick enough to catch these beetles on camera. I've been seeing these under logs, but they usually scurry away from the light too quickly for me to photograph. I'm unsure what species these are. iNaturalist's best AI guess seems to be Harpalus affinis. I'll update this post when I've got a more definitive ID.

A tiny, tan-colored cricket crouching among leaf debris on the forest floor

This cricket is another new acquaintance I found under a log. Again, I'm not sure of the ID, but it seems to be a member of the subfamily Ceuthophilinae.

A different California Slender Salamander / Batrachoseps attenuatus: a tiny, dark brown salamander resting on a branch on the forest floor

The first three salamanders I found today were all California Slenders. The one pictured above is the largest one I've spotted so far.

Yet another California Slender Salamander / Batrachoseps attenuatus: a tiny, dark brown salamander curled up tight among leaf litter on a rock

I know there must be hundreds - thousands? - more that I'm not seeing. They're tiny enough to hide under a single leaf or inside an earthworm burrow.

A Yellow-Eyed Ensatina / Ensatina eschscholtzii, a small reddish-brown salamander with orange-colored legs & tail tip in leaf litter on the forest floor

This is the first Yellow-Eyed Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii) I've seen since the rains earlier this week. This one is an adult, again the largest I've seen so far.

And now for the best part. I actually squealed out loud when I saw this salamander:

An Arboreal Salamander / Aneides lugubris, a medium-sized brown salamander on dirt and leaf litter on the forest floor

I may or may not have whispered "Who is the prettiest squish-monster in the forest? You are! Yes, you are!" to it while I snapped a photo.

I've wanted to see an Arboreal Salamander (Aneides lugubris) since I first read about them in Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of California. Like the Ensatina and the Slenders, this is a lungless salamander, which means it breathes through its skin & the tissues of its mouth. But it can squeak, a feat it accomplishes by retracting its eyeballs into their sockets.

The Arboreal Salamander is "well known for its aggressive tendencies and weaponry." It's got a mouthful of sharp teeth and the impressively overdeveloped jaw muscles to back them up - not an amphibian you want to mess with! Like its common name suggests, this salamander makes a habit of climbing trees, but I found this one lurking beneath a log.

Its genus name, Aneides, is Greek for "shapeless," which I feel is unfair. Shapely seems more appropriate to me. I know I've got a weird sense of aesthetic, but look at this thing: the curlicue spine, the massive jaw, enormous legs for a salamander, and those voluptuous abdominal folds!

The species name is Latin, lugubris, meaning "mournful."

There are days when the creatures I meet in the woods feel like a blessing. Today was one of those days.