Salamander Love

When a friend recently asked me to attend a “nerdy event” that involved salamanders, my ears perked up. Mention of that slimy little animal reminded of my childhood outdoor adventures: catching the poor creatures, making habitats for them in recycling bins, and then setting them free when mom explained that keeping them wasn’t right. We caught other critters too: garter snakes, neon-green tree frogs and bumpy toads – the frogs and toads usually ended up as Barbie pets.

As a young girl, I had an avid love for science. There wasn’t one book (or episode) of The Magic School Bus that I didn’t love. The way Ms. Frizzle explained the human digestive system by shrinking the bus and taking a field trip inside the body – brilliant! And don’t get me started on, “At the Waterworks” or “Lost in the Solar System.” I consumed nature books and animal encyclopedias at a voracious rate. One of my favorite presents was a doll that came with a nature guidebook. I was fascinated by all the facts that were contained in that little book. My parents were concerned when they found me outside letting mosquitos fill their stomachs on my arms. I told them not to worry; my guidebook explained that a mosquito injects an itchy chemical that breaks down your skin so it can suck your blood. Once the bug is full, it’s takes that chemical with it. However, we usually slap them before we let them fly away, which results in irritating mosquito bites. Mom and Dad weren’t buying it and told me I had to stop feeding the mosquitoes.

And although I now find myself in working in the communications sector with an English major under my belt, I’m still fascinated by the intricacies of nature and simple scientific wonders. And by simple I mean, I thoroughly enjoy pestering earthworms to come up from the soil by only using mustard water (yes, this really works – it’s amazing). As soon as Jamison starts talking about trinucleotide repeats, my eyes start to glaze over.

So you’ll understand my excitement when Laura mentioned attending a Science Café at one of my favorite coffee shops. I walked into Hart & Soul right as the trivia was starting. I joined a team with people from Michigan – rightfully so, we were Team Midwest. And although the local children’s science center was hosting the trivia, the questions were tough! Who knew that a slinky stretched out flat was 87 feet? Or that the only letter that doesn’t appear solo on the periodic table is J? My fellow Midwesterners turned out to be great teammates and we won! I am now a proud owner of two free passes to the McWane Science Center. But the fun didn’t stop there; trivia was followed by a great presentation on salamander romance. Fitting not only because Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, but also because the coffee shop is located right near Shades Creek – a hot spot for salamander mating rituals this time of year.

Megan Gibbons, an associate professor of Biology at Birmingham Southern College, covered everything from basic amphibian facts to the complexities of salamander mating. At times, I may have learned more than I wanted to know about the creation of baby amphibians, but I definitely enjoyed myself. Plus, I’m now chock-full of “did you know” facts to break out at future dinner parties. And with that, I will leave you with one of my favorite discoveries of the night. The Túngara Frog, found in Central America, has an awesome mating call that sounds like a Stormtrooper’s laser gun.

 

Note: Last night’s Science Café was the first one to ever be held in Alabama and it was put on by some very cool local organizations: The Southern Environmental Center, Birmingham-Southern College and the McWane Science Center.

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