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  • Annie Jacobs

Why the red eft reader?

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

February 1, 2022

Annie Jacobs

This beloved salamander is both common on the plateau--especially after a rain in summer or fall--and uniquely eye-catching. Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli

It wasn't easy coming up with a name for this new "story hub" feature of our website.

I wanted something warm, inviting, catchy, and communicative of the scope of what we do together in this work.

My mind kept latching on to the large, wide-ranging animals that depend on connected forests and travel between the Rensselaer Plateau and forests in neighboring states.

The awareness that nature does not adhere to state and county boundaries is becoming ever more important to RPA's work and the land trust movement. We work with neighboring land trusts through partnerships like the Berkshire Taconic Regional Conservation Partnership and the Follow the Forest initiative because we know that true conservation success depends on thinking more like the animals that move across the landscape.

To ponder regional conservation imagine this: Conserving an isolated forest patch does wonders for the animals and plants that live there, the people who visit, and the water that runs through. But what if that forest is connected to another and to another, even if just through a corridor, so that the water and animals have the ability travel the way they are meant to?

Such connections make for a region that isn't only beautiful and wild in patches here and there, but also a haven for vulnerable species as the climate changes, and source of clean air and water for the people who live nearby.

What does all this have to do with the red eft? Why do they get to be "mascot" when there are charismatic creatures like the bobcat roaming the plateau? (Bobcats and moose do get a lot of attention in RPA's communications, too.)

For one, their life story is pretty wild. The neon orange salamander is one stage in the life cycle of the eastern (or red-spotted) newt. After leaving the water that it hatched and lived in as larva, the red eft grows lungs and lives on the forest floor for up to 7 years before moving back to the water. Some travel long distances to a new body of water where they regain their gills and live out the rest of their lives.

This showy salamander might not be moving such great distances as the moose or bobcat. Still, there is their striking brightness after a rain, and the way they slow you down on a hike or trail run. On a chilly fall day, their stillness, and, in summer, their purposeful march forward.

They teach us lessons about what our forests need. As amphibians, they absorb pollutants readily through their skin, making them indicators of a healthy environment.

Logs and leaf litter that might look messy are home to the red eft; forest soils, low vegetation, and leaf litter contain the insects, worms, snails, slugs, and other creatures on the red eft's menu.

And they simply delight us, however old we may be.

Red efts represent much of WHY we work so hard to care for the Rensselaer Plateau, as well as the simple joys of walking in nature.

As I write this in February, red eft season seems far off. But before I know it, I'll be out walking on a plateau trail after a rain and who will stop me in my tracks? A brilliant orange salamander scooting over a mossy rock, of course. For now, I know that they are safely waiting out the winter under the logs and soil.

Thankfully, the forest floor is nice and messy for them.

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