March Species Spotlight: Spotted Salamanders and Lesser Celandine

March 18, 2021

by Cara Gentry, WVLT Coordinator of Land Stewardship


Spotted Salamander on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail

Spotted Salamander on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail

Spotted Salamander


Warm rainy spring nights bring the amphibians marching out of the forests in search of woodland pools. The Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) is one of the most easily identified amphibians during spring migration due to its relatively large size, bright yellow spots, and adorable smile. The Spotted Salamander is about 4.5-8 inches long with smooth dark grey to black skin and distinctive yellow spots. They are classified as a mole salamander which tend to live in borrows in the forest floor and migrate to vernal pools during mating season.

These loveable creatures are voracious carnivores, eating many invertebrates including juicy insects and worms. The Spotted Salamanders will not only make their own burrows, but can be found utilizing other small animal burrows or hanging out in caves. The Spotted Salamanders will migrate up to a half mile each spring to lay their egg masses in vernal pools. A large group of salamanders in the vernal pool where the males are courting the females is called a congress. The females will attach their fertilized egg masses to sticks or vegetation in the water, often utilizing the same branch as other females. The larval salamanders will hatch about 6-8 weeks after the eggs are deposited where they will spend the summer feeding on invertebrates in the water until they mature and leave the pools.

Salamander eggs on the Elliot Conservation Easement

Salamander eggs on the Elliot Conservation Easement

You can look for egg masses in human-made vernal pools along the edge of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and in more natural vernal pools on our Mill Brook Preserve conservation easement in New Paltz. On rainy spring nights, you can help save this native species by driving carefully to avoid running over the creatures with your vehicle. You could even volunteer to assist in monitoring their population and help move them across busy road crossings by joining our Amphibian Migration and Road Crossings Partnership with the NYSDEC.

To become a part of our volunteer effort to save the local salamanders and other amphibians, contact our Coordinator of Land Stewardship Cara Gentry at To learn more about the NYS DEC Amphibian Migration and Road Crossings Project, check out their website.




Lesser Celandine

The Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) is a low-growing plant that you can see dotting river banks and wet areas with their shiny green foliage and small bright yellow flowers in the early spring.

Lesser Celandine at the Nyquist-Harcourt Nature Sanctuary

Lesser Celandine at the Nyquist-Harcourt Nature Sanctuary

Originally introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental, the Lesser Celandine has escaped cultivated gardens and will form dense mats expanding into disturbed areas in both dry and wet habitats. The leaves are heart-shaped, shiny and dark green, ranging from 1.5 to 3.5 inches long.  The flowers are bright yellow with 7-12 tepals, which look similar to petals but are structurally different. Lesser Celandine has a tuberous root mass making it hard for other species to grow along side of this invasive plant. Their early appearance in the spring can be a bright spot on the otherwise bleak brown remnants of winter. Sadly, their seemingly cheery early spring showing means they are outcompeting our native early spring wildflowers such as Trillium, Trout Lily, and Spring Beauties. The Lesser Celandine reproduces by propagation of the root tubers, seeds, or by bulbils which are a small clone of the plant produced on the parent stalk.

The Lesser Celandine has also been called Fig Buttercup and Pilewort, though those common names are found in connection with other species as well.  The Lesser Celandine is part of the buttercup family, and as such, when the plants sap comes in contact with a person’s skin, it can itch, burn or even blister depending on one’s exposure and sensitivity.  Traditionally, the plants were used as an herbal medicine to treat ailments from hemorrhoids to scurvy, however the toxins produced by the plants can cause damage. If ingested, the Lesser Celandine can create a range of issues for both humans and livestock, including vomiting in mild cases and paralysis in a more severe reaction.

Removal of Lesser Celandine from your property can be done manually for small batches, though it is recommended that you wear gloves to protect your skin and carefully remove all traces of the tubers from the soil. One can also apply small amounts of herbicide directly to the plants in order to kill only the primary target and not impact any of the species you may be trying to preserve. Always make sure you follow local regulations and herbicide instructions if choosing to use chemicals to reduce the population of invasive species.

You can find this early spring invasive wildflower along the banks of the Wallkill River in our conservation easement on the Nyquist-Harcourt Nature Sanctuary in New Paltz. If you would like to learn more about WVLT’s invasive species management program, please contact our Coordinator of Land Stewardship Cara Gentry at



Kenney, Leo P. and Burne, Matthew R.; “A Field Guide to the Animals of Vernal Pools” Massachusetts Division of Wildlife Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program & Vernal Pool Association. 2009.

New York State Invasive Species (IS) Information website: