Article by CVC’s Adam Wilford –

I recently took a group of high school volunteers on a tour of a salamander monitoring site at Riverwood Conservancy in Mississauga. The students are part of the Conservation Youth Corps’ (CYC) ‘Frontline’ program. Frontline students are veteran CYC volunteers who have become ambassadors to their schools and take part in environmental workshops and experiences like this one.

The tour was led by Aaron Ptok-Byard, a Terrestrial Monitoring Technician at CVC. Aaron did an great job explaining everything we needed to know about salamanders. We learned about their incredible life cycles, the kinds of habitat they enjoy, which species are in Ontario and how to identify them. We also learned about CVC’s monitoring program that tracks salamander health and distribution.

CVC uses pre-made monitoring boards that offer habitat for salamanders. There are 15 monitoring sites across the Credit River watershed. Each site contains 40 salamander boards spaced five metres, allowing for proper scientific monitoring. The boards provide different types of habitat and allow for easy sampling. Each board has two layers with a space in between for the salamanders to hang out and stay moist. Salamanders need to stay moist so they can breath.


The most effective boards are the ones that are a few years old. As the wood they are constructed of begins to rot they become damper and entice more insects, an excellent source of food for salamanders. CVC monitors the boards within the first three to four weeks after the spring thaw. That’s when salamanders are actively looking for breeding areas. CVC monitors the sites three times during this time period with visits spaced at least seven days apart.

Ideal conditions for monitoring salamanders are when the ground is moist and evening temperatures are above five degrees Celsius. Technicians first remove the top layer of the board, and then the bottom layer, picking up any salamanders they spot. They need to be quick on warm days or salamanders will make a run for it! They collect information on salamander species, size, location, weather conditions and any additional wildlife observations. They then put the boards back in place, and gently set the salamanders near the boards so as not to injure them.

Holding a salamander

Overall the experience was very enlightening. Everyone involved learned a lot about salamanders, and more importantly, how to find them! We each had a chance to flip over some boards to search and find Eastern red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), which are the only strictly terrestrial salamander in Ontario. We found over 15 salamanders and everyone got to hold one! They were all different sizes, from about 4 inches long to under an inch. They were all super cute!

Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to see the elusive lead-backed variety of the Eastern red-backed salamander, which is a colour variation of the species. It was fascinating to see how many salamanders there are hiding around the forest. According to Aaron, on the best nights in spring some areas have so many salamanders out and about that they literally coat the forest floor! I urge anyone interested to learn more about salamanders and see if you can find any!

For more information about the CYC Frontline! program, visit

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