Chasing Tigers in the Blue Ridge

The Blue Ridge harbors so many treasures.

In the Central Virginia Blue Ridge exists a phenomenal ecosystem, one that was probably shaped by raging braided mountain streams during the last iceage. It contains many disjunct species. In fact, over 90 species that are well outside their typical range have been documented here. It’s an odd mix of coastal plain, Appalachian and northern plants and animals. While several rare and endangered species exist here, today we focused on a well known Blue Ridge phenomenon: Salamanders.

The Rivanna Chapter of Master Naturalists hosted its annual salamander hike to this part of the Blue Ridge. With a strong group of nearly 30 people, we headed to the George Washington National Forest and into the heart of the 30,000 acre wildlife management area known as Big Levels. While we expected to see several species, the one that had our hearts was the State Endangered Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum). It has been documented at this site but rarely has it been seen.

We found a single Tiger salamander, along with two other species of the same genus, the Marbled and the Spotted. The tiger was just under 7 inches long, and thus a small one. They are typically anywhere between 7 and 14 inches in length! For all involved this was a very special day; a once in a lifetime experience. Thank you John Holden for leading the walk! Excellent, as usual.

For more information about the Tiger Salamander:

Other noteworthy plants and animals

observed on the walk:

  • Hooded merganser
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Pine Warbler
  • Marbled salamander
  • Spotted salamander
  • Northern redback salamander
  • Northern dusky salamander
  • Redbellied snake
  • Cricket frog
  • Red eft
  • Fox scat
  • Coyote scat
  • Bear scat
  • Citronella ants
  • Trailing arbutus (tightly closed flower buds)
  • Spotted wintergreen
  • Eastern teaberry (in full fruit)

D. Floyd