Slugs and salamanders aren’t the biggest or boldest critters of the forest but they are definitely among the most sought after. It seems everyone who visits the redwoods wants to see a banana slug in the flesh. Salamanders also come with some notoriety. This part of northern California has the highest number of salamander species roaming the rocks and rivulets, more then 15 .
The slug is a slow moving creature that is enormously fun to watch and to tease (sorry, but all within reason, promise). Its antennae protrude, sensing food, danger, and the overall environment. Its ass seem to be always sprouting some unmentionable (they feed mostly on organic matter like leaves, lichens, mushrooms, and plants). But they also feed on other slugs, or dead animals on the forest floor. And they are forever coated in slime, a defensive mechanism that helps them survive predators.They are slow, ugly, and fascinating to watch move through their world. Public TV in San Francisco, KQED, produced and aired a fantastic video that explores the world of the banana slug. It’s worth watching and learning something about this spine-less creature before arriving here.
Salamanders are more benign beings. The big draw surrounding salamanders is the presence of the 15+ species that live in the redwood forest — under rocks, alongside dead trees and sometimes above the forest floor in the trees. Many locals keep a running tally of the number of species sighted. On a hike in the National Park take some time to turn over rocks or walk quietly in the rainy undergrowth and you might be lucky to spot one or two. They are flighty but can stay put a surprisingly long while giving hikers and nature buffs an opportunity to study them in the wild.
Says Wikipedia, “The salamander’s ability to regenerate lost body parts is being investigated and research is ongoing into any applications this may have for human medicine. The skin of salamanders, in common with other amphibians, is thin, permeable to water, serves as a respiratory membrane, and is well-supplied with glands.”
For a deep dive into the life of the Bay Area, Santa cruz, and redwood forest-dwelling salamander, read David Rains Wallace’s excellent profile of this reclusive animal in BayNature. The Humboldt County Herpetological Society has a informational web site that covers salamanders and slugs.