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Helping to save a salamander
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I am sure you have seen that spotted, bright-orange lizard around town a time or two.

His name is Sal, and he is the logo for the Liberty County Convention and Visitors Bureau — and not just because he looks cool. I will bet if you have seen it, you also have wondered what that lizard really is and what significance it has to Liberty County.

This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get here at the CVB. Well, sit down and prepare to be surprised as we tell you all about this interesting amphibian. That orange lizard is our commercialized version of a very real animal that is quite indigenous to our area — an animal known as the frosted flatwoods salamander.

Prior to European settlement, the frosted flatwoods salamander most likely was a common member of the fire-maintained longleaf pine-wiregrass community, which has since been largely replaced by urban development and agricultural growth. Further degradation has occurred in the last decade as a result of ongoing land use activities, and populations now are widely fragmented, restricted to a handful of remaining sites in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

In 1999, the flatwoods salamander was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In August 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a change in classification of the salamander into two species: the frosted flatwoods salamander and the reticulated flatwoods salamander. The frosted retained a status of threatened while the reticulated garnered a status of endangered and a spot on the endangered-species list.

Critical habitat for the frosted flatwoods salamander has been found to be approximately 5,283 acres of occupied habitat on military lands in Georgia. Of these acres, 5,121 acres are on Fort Stewart, which is an unrivaled haven for the frosted flatwoods salamander due to its abundance of swampy marsh.

The frosted flatwoods salamander breeds in small, shallow, short-lived ponds, generally characterized by a profusion of cypress and black tupelo trees. Adults spend most of the year underground in burrows, where they feed on a variety of small invertebrates. From September through December, adults migrate from surrounding upland habitats to the wetlands when it rains. Courtship occurs within dry pond basins or very shallow water, where females lay eggs in small groups, usually within clumps of moist vegetation. The eggs hatch in response to inundation by rising water levels in the pond.

So now that you know about our friend, the frosted flatwoods salamander, take it a step further and do your part to help endangered species in Georgia. Endangered Species Day celebrates endangered species success stories and learn about species still in danger. It is held on the third Friday in May; this year, it falls on May 18. You can support Endangered Species Day by raising awareness in our community about Sal or by helping to clean up a wildlife refuge or park.

Willett is executive assistant at the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce.

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