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Smoky Mountain Salamander Hunt


Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border. These ancient tumble-down mountains are full of creeks and springs, mossy rocks, and fallen trees covered in fungus. It’s a perfect place for salamanders, thirty different species of them! All that moist moss, soggy soil, and rotting wood is just what these dampness-loving amphibians crave. It rains so much in the Smoky Mountains that it’s considered a rain forest. Not the tropical kind, but a temperate rain forest.

Rain, mud, and slippery rocks are great for salamanders. But constant rain makes for difficult photo shoots. Photographer Tom Uhlman and I are working on an upcoming book about science projects in America’s national parks. Last week we traveled to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to meet up with salamander scientist Amy Luxbacher. She was there collecting information about a (very cute!) species, the red-cheeked salamander. It has giant cartoon-character eyes and a red patch on its cheek.


Red-cheeked salamanders...


...only live in GSMNP.

We spent a couple of days tromping through wet moss and fallen leaves looking for them. Mostly in the rain or drizzle. Tom Uhlman is an intrepid photographer, however, and did what was needed to photograph the scientist at work. He also spent a lot of time photographing as many species of salamanders as we could find. I turned out to be the superior salamander hunter, in case you’re wondering.

Here are some of the other species we found. Click on them for an up-close look.


↑ This pygmy salamander is teeny tiny, the size of a noodle.


↑ The imitator salamander has a red cheek patch, too. But don't be fooled!


↑ Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders are super skinny and fast.


↑ This slimy salamander lives up to its name!

by Mary Kay Carson

About Mary Kay Carson

Mary Kay Carson

Mary Kay Carson and Tom Uhlman are the author and illustrator of Emi and the Rhino Scientist and The Bat Scientists. Mary Kay has written many books for children and Tom has been a freelance photographer for twenty years. They live in Cincinnati, Ohio, with their dog Ruby where they wait each summer evening for the bats to begin circling above their backyard pond. Tom also shot photographs for Eruption!, a Scientists in the Field book about volcanoes by Liz Rusch. Mary Kay and Tom’s upcoming Scientists in the Field book is Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America’s Own Backyard, which is about America’s National Parks.

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