Distribution of the Blue-Spotted Salamander in Ohio
The Blue-spotted Salamander (Ambystoma laterale) is one of the rarest salamander species in Ohio, as it ranges only into the northwest corner of the state. Interestingly, however, its genes can be found in salamanders as far away as Cleveland and Cincinnati! This is because the genes of this species are found in all of the members of the Unisexual Ambystoma.
What does this mean? Well, it means that finding a salamander with blue flecking on its sides in Ohio doesn't mean you've found a Blue-spotted Salamander. There are only two definitive methods for identifying this species in Ohio: (1) an individual matching the description of a Blue-spotted Salamander that is also a male (nearly all Unisexual Ambystoma are females); or, (2) examining the genetic makeup of the animal using molecular techniques in the laboratory.
I have been working with Katy Greenwald (formerly of the Gibbs lab at Ohio State University, now at Eastern Michigan University) to collect samples from salamanders for genetic analysis. To date, we have identified three locations where "pure" Blue-spotted Salamanders occur, all in the Oak Openings Region, southwest of Toledo. All of these sites are classic Twigrush Wet Prairie habitats (see photo below).
This is exciting research that is uncovering a world of diversity that has perplexed herpetologists since the days of Charles Walker. It also raises basic ecological and evolutionary questions, and may challenge the traditional species concepts and long-held ideas about vertebrate reproduction.
This project is supported by the Ohio Division of Wildlife with funds donated through the Wildlife Diversity and Endangered Species Program, and through sales of the Wildlife Legacy Stamp.