First Four-Toed Salamander Nest Found on Nantucket!

This salamander is the second salamander species found on Nantucket

The four-toed salamander.

The four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) was not known on Nantucket until 2009.  It is Nantucket’s second salamander species (behind the much more common red-backed salamander (Plethodon cinereus)) and only single individuals had been found in various Nantucket swamps.  Four-toes have a white underbelly with black dots and only four toes on the hind feed (not five).

H. scutatum lays its eggs under moss on the edges of standing water and the adult female hangs out and guards them.  There is tons of moss and standing water on Nantucket, so it was always assumed they were breeding here.  However, until now, no one had been able to figure out where.

Yesterday, Andrew Mckenna-Foster, Director of Natural Science, organized an expedition

The team of MMA volunteers and staff who found the four-toed salamander nest

The group after finding the salamanders (and some spring peepers)

to look for nests with several long time volunteers (3rd-5th graders) and an MMA intern.  The group carefully looked under moss and logs, making sure to replace everything and not destroy habitat.  After striking out in one area (but finding several spring peepers), they moved to a new site and one young volunteer spotted a super tiny four-toed missing its tail.  With renewed hope, we continued searching until Jack Dubinsky, MMA Aquarium Intern, found a nest with an adult and 11 eggs.  They GPS’d the location and took careful notes on the nest before triumphantly returning home.  The data will be reported to Nantucket conservation groups as well as to the state of Massachusetts.

There is still lots to discover on Nantucket!  If you find a creature, take a picture and send it to us!  The staff at the Natural Science Museum document all the life on Nantucket and keep track of how many species call this island home.


the egg of a salamander on a finger

An egg from the nest. We carefully replaced it.


Meet the 2014 Summer Interns!

MMA is very excited to welcome the 2014 summer interns!  We have hired 1 summer programs coordinator, 27 college interns, and 6 high school interns to assist in our various departments for the 2014 summer season.

Left to right: 2013 interns on and island tour with Nantucket Bike Tours; Aquarium intern; 2013 interns

Left to right: 2013 interns on and island tour with Nantucket Bike Tours; Aquarium intern; 2013 interns

Summer Programs Coordinator

Kyle Macsuga – Former Natural Science Museum Intern


Jack Dubinsky – Former Aquarium Volunteer
Patricia Kelly
Mark Losavio
Alisia Trevino

Astronomy Education

Caitlin Hay

Astronomy REU Students

Katie Butler Emily Longley
Emma Dahl Meg Panetta
Jonathan Jackson Aquiel Warner

Environmental Education

Christopher Coomey – Returning Education Intern Frances Klein
Seth Engelbourg Erik Lokensgard
Sam Fisher Kenneth McCormack
Trinity Foreman Lauren O’Brien
Allison Gayo Grace Sullivan
Maia Gokhale Julia Texiera

Marketing & Development

Erin Lotridge

Mitchell House

Claire Payne

Natural Science

Tabatha Hawkins – Returning Natural Science Museum Intern
Sarah McGrath

High School Marine Science Interns

Daniel Blatt Ned Manus
Sadie Goetz Sam Panner
Isaac Hersch Max Rudolph

Fossil and Snake Research Expedition

Over the last weekend, a team of researchers stayed here at the MMA as part of an annual research trip to Nantucket.  Goals for this trip were to collect more fossil shells below Sankaty Bluff and investigate a potential new snake research site.  Two researchers, Jessica Cundiff (paleontology) and Joe Martinez (herpetology) are from the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) and two others, Scott Smyers and Scott Egan, are ecologists in the consulting field.

fossil shells

Sorting fossil shells at the end of the day.

Fossil shell collecting was a success and the team found some beautiful tiny snail shells.  The fossil shells are ~125,000 years old and represent the life living in this area before the last ice age when, in place of Nantucket, there was a shallow sea.  The glacier lifted part of this ancient sea floor and those sediments are now eroding out of the Sankaty Bluff.

After looking for fossils, the team headed to Almanac Pond to investigate the area for future snake population research.  Just around the pond edge we captured four ribbon snakes (Thamnophis sauritus) and one garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis)!  We weighed, measured, and noted injurieson each snake before letting it go.  Three of the ribbon snakes were missing parts of their tails- most likely due to predation.


Ribbon snake on the left and garter snake on the right.


MMA Spring Newsletter 2014

Did you see our Spring 2014 Newsletter with updates from the Departments of Astronomy, Education, Mitchell House and Natural Sciences?   There’s a lot going on at MMA all year-round!

One correction to make, though.  We are working with the Nantucket Flying Association on the “Air of Opportunities” program, not the Egan Maritime Institute.  (Though we do love collaborating with them whenever we get the chance.)


Nantucket Birdathon 2014

5:00 pm May 16  to  5:00 pm May 17

Birdathon 2014 logo

Thank you to all of the participants and supporters this year!  We had three teams scouring the island for birds and despite some poor weather Saturday morning, the total species count was 120 species!  To see the tally, check out the 2014 Birdathon List.

This year’s Birdathon will raise money to support bird programs and scientific collections Birdsat the Maria Mitchell Association and the Linda Loring Nature Foundation.  Teams take pledges from friends, family, and businesses and we count up how many species (not individuals) are seen total in a 24 hour period (5PM May 16 to 5PM May 17).  People can pledge a dollar amount or an amount per species. Anyone is welcome and teams can be made up of one to five people.  Typically we see up to 140 species and usually around 100.

Participation is completely FREE!

Download general information, team registration form, and pledge forms:

General Birdathon Information
Team Registration Form
Birdathon Pledge Form

This year’s t-shirt! (designed by Ginger Andrews)

birdathon shirt


Island Explorers Camp (for MMA Island Family Members)

To celebrate the end of the school year, we are offering a special camp for year-round residents of Nantucket for a discounted price during the weeks of June 16th and June 23rd. Program discounts are applicable with the purchase of an Island Family Membership.

ie camp

Visit our website for more information or to register for these programs.