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
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.