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Archive 2012 · Pacific Giant Salamander
  
 
big_fish
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Pacific Giant Salamander


Finally found my slippery four-legged holy grail - what follows are a few photos and some back story.







My quest wasnít quite to the same scale as Sir Lancelotsí quest for the Holy Grail, no Castle Anthrax, no Bridge Of Death, but it did involve a few epic journeys. Deep in the Chilliwack River Valley lives a creature rarely seen, so mysterious itís made the provincial endangered species red list Ė itís not a cute little jugular-severing bunny rabbit, itís the Pacific Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon tenebrosus).

In British Columbia, the Pacific Giant Salamander faces extensive habitat loss due to timber harvesting and development. The salamander larvae require cold shaded streams with un-silted pools to grow. Even the cleanest logging practices or any disturbance can cause turbidity in the water making it unsuitable for the larvae. Once fully developed, adults donít roam far from where theyíre born making the recovery of this species even more challenging.







Reading almost every research paper discussing the Pacific Giant Salamander population in Chilliwack, resulted in finding a few prime locations where the elusive amphibian is known to live. Using papers written in the mid 90ís with hand drawn maps of where salamanders had been found wasnít much of a lead, but it was all I had. Two exhausting trips reaching far in to the Chilliwack River Valley, up some incredibly rough logging roads, and pushing through some of the densest under growth Iíd ever encountered, resulted in nothing more than an unwanted view of the extensive logging throughout the Chilliwack River Water Shed. It was easy to see how big of an impact logging would have on such a sensitive species. The Pacific Giant Salamander larvae develop in cool, shaded pools of clean flowing water Ė even the slightest amount of turbidity introduced by logging can make the water uninhabitable by the larva.

Then, after receiving a much-appreciated tip (thanks Hugh), I set out on a third excursion into the Chilliwack River Valley. Along a quiet winding country road, past the turkey vultures in the field, a peaceful stream trickles under the road. After surgically examining the stream and the surrounding undergrowth for quite some time, only a few dozen common Western Red-backed Salamanders were found. Losing hope my intrepid girlfriend and I began to make our way back down the loose scree slope along the stream. Having already fallen once and given myself a wicked purple shiner when the bear spray swung up smacking me in the eye, the second fall was nothing new. However, when I got to my feet and noticed the old rotten tree stump I had fallen over was home to the Holy Grail, I was beyond ecstatic.







I carefully scooped up the endangered gem and handed it off to my ever so helpful girlfriend while I setup the camera. Having photographed many other species of salamanders and newts already, the most interesting characteristic of the Pacific Giant Salamander is its colouration. The mottled orange-brown and black pattern covering its dorsal are truly unique. Oh, and itís huge! This individual wasnít the giant Iíd been searching for; at only 11cm long it still had some growing to do, but even at such size its physiology just screams giant. It was also full of energy. Most other salamanders Iíve encountered are slow moving methodical animals Ė this species is the total opposite, constantly moving and very quick at times. The Pacific Giant Salamander is known to prey upon mice, shrews, and anything else it can overpower and fit in its mouth, so it shouldnít come as a surprise that it also packs a relatively painful bite. Taking the photos I had envisioned, we named the not so little guy Steve and returned him to his home.







Why go to such lengths to find and photograph this seemingly insignificant creature? Simply because more people need to know it exists. Although the Pacific Giant Salamander is in trouble here in BC, in Washington, Oregon, and California their populations are considered healthy. There are only 60 streams in the Chilliwack River Valley and Water Shed? that the Pacific Giant Salamander calls home. That number is shrinking quickly due to habitat loss from logging and development. Currently the Canadian governmentís Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) lists the Pacific Giant Salamander as Threatened, and as mentioned earlier the British Columbia provincial government has placed it on their red list. So little is known about the population in BC that their estimated numbers range from 10,000 to 100,000. In 2007 twenty Wildlife Habitat Areas were established in an effort to help protect the Pacific Giant Salamanders in BC, however little has been done to monitor the impact these areas have had on the population. Hopefully, just by knowing the Pacific Giant Salamander exists and knowing that it is seriously threatened in BC will help raise awareness for this miniature modern day dinosaur.








Aug 24, 2012 at 10:15 PM
morris
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Pacific Giant Salamander


The first photo is not comming up, the second is my pick of what you captured. Nice documentary and tutorial here.

Morris



Aug 24, 2012 at 10:44 PM
surfnron
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Pacific Giant Salamander


Very nice shots and story Neil. 2 is my pick for the natural setting ~ Ron


Aug 24, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Oldraven
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Pacific Giant Salamander


A whole lot of work went into this piece, and I can't say enough good things about it. Enjoyed the adventure tale & the photos, and loved learning about the salamander. Thanks for doing this!


Aug 24, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Rob Tillyer
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Pacific Giant Salamander


Great work Neil, sounds like quite a project. The second is my pick.

Rob



Aug 24, 2012 at 11:43 PM
gilead
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Pacific Giant Salamander


All great bud, very interesting info.
Thanks



Aug 25, 2012 at 12:11 AM
 

Search in Used Dept. 



KCollett
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Pacific Giant Salamander


Excellent results from your efforts Neil. Thank you.


Aug 25, 2012 at 02:13 AM
mogul
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Pacific Giant Salamander


Being from Oregon, I really appreciate your narration. I used to steelhead fish BC, but no more. The clearcuts are destroying the watersheds at an alarming pace. I hope the citizens wake up before it is too late (spoken as US citizen who watched our heritage destroyed).


Aug 25, 2012 at 02:34 AM
kmunroe
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Pacific Giant Salamander


nicely done Neil .. #2 for me


Aug 25, 2012 at 08:40 AM
waldr_p
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Pacific Giant Salamander


Very interesting post Neil and some nice shots of this rare creature - no.2 is my pick because I like to see the animal in its natural setting.

I hope you are successful in raising awareness of this animal so that both it and its habitat can be protected before it is too late.

Paul.



Aug 25, 2012 at 10:29 AM
big_fish
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Pacific Giant Salamander


Thanks for all the comments.







It was truly amazing to find a species of animal thatís more elusive than Steve Zissou's Jaguar Shark, but the individual I stumbled across last week didnít really live up to its name. Having found common Northwestern Salamanders stretching 12cm in length, the 10cm long Pacific Giant Salamander wasnít really that giant.

So, once again we headed out to Chilliwack determined to find a giantÖ and maybe some corn along the way. Not wanting to disturb the same area more than once, we rolled the dice and tried our luck in an area completely new and unknown to us. After ignoring a few signs about mandatory 4◊4 and pulling over a few times to allow dirt bikes to pass, we finally found some running water close enough to the old forest service road.

As we hopped down the embankment along side of the road a few red-legged frogs did the same Ė right into the stream. As we continued searching we found a bunch of tiny Western Redback Salamanders (Plethodon vehiculum), loads of good-sized snail beetles, plenty of small wiggling grubs, countless huge banana slugs, and an insane number of the biggest mosquitoes ever Ė everything a Pacific Giant Salamander would love to munch on. Though after more than an hour of careful searching weíd yet to find any giants, not even a little giant.








As hope was fading and we started to consider heading back up the steep slope, our luck changed. As I carefully lifted a decomposing birch tree and examined what lived beneath, a golden-brown tail quickly slipped away under the adjacent log. This was the one. The giant I had so badly wanted to find. The tail alone was all that was needed to know just how big this giant was. Ever so gingerly, I cleared away a few pieces of decomposing undergrowth surrounding the giantís lair and wait for the schooling fluorescent snapper to clear. Not wanting to feel that giantís wrath chomp down on my tasty finger, I very awkwardly lifted away the remaining piece of rotten birch to reveal the beast!

Well it wasnít really a beast, but at about 22cm long, it is certainly the biggest salamander Iíve ever come across. The most impressive feature was its mouth, stretching from one side of its head to the other Ė itís easy to see how these giants can prey upon mice, shrews, and other salamanders. Speaking of other salamanders, while doing an awesome job of holding lights, my girlfriend had a Western Redback Salamander crawl across her foot. This Western Redback, at just less than two inches in length, provided a great comparison for size between a Ďregularí salamander and a giant.








Happy with the photos and footage captured, I caringly rebuilt the giantís lair and returned him (we did check gender this time) to his cozy dwelling. Of course the Pacific Giant Salamander is known to grow to lengths of 35cm, so even this 22cm long individual can grow a bit more. For now Iím content with a 22cm Pacific Giant Salamander. Next of the list is the Coastal Tailed FrogÖ or maybe even the long-lived and silent Rocky Mountain Tailed Frog?



Aug 28, 2012 at 08:14 PM





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