It's a side of the Rocky River watershed that very few individuals have ever witnessed. However, this scene plays itself out on a daily basis in some of the most remote corners of the watershed. This video, recorded by Natalie Moore during the assessment of a primary headwater stream by Cleveland Metroparks Natural Resources staff, shows a larval Northern Red Salamander feeding on a larval caddisfly called a Netspinner Caddisfly.
This particular salamander larva is probably around three years of age. Northern Red Salamanders spend the first three to four years of their lives as aquatic larva which breathe through gills at the sides of their neck. These salamanders are some of the rarest and most sensitive of salamanders in all of Northeast Ohio. They require very cold, perennial spring-fed streams. Typically these small streams look like no more than a muddy trickle to the untrained eye. It's not without patience and a keen eye that the multitude of life found in these tiny ecosystems can be revealed. Cold water can hold more oxygen than warmer water. As a result, these cool spring-fed streams are generally teeming with life. They are home to some of the most diverse assemblages of aquatic invertebrates, not to mention some of the most sensitive.
Unfortunately, many of these streams have been damaged beyond repair in Ohio, and whole populations of animals like the Northern Red Salamander have probably been lost in our watershed already. Whether you care about a small red salamander or not, you should care about protecting these small streams. This is because every small stream flows to a larger stream, and then to an even larger stream. In turn, even the smallest stream eventually becomes a river, and in the case of the Rocky River, that water ultimately makes it's way to Lake Erie. We all depend on clean water for drinking, recreation, and overall well-being. When we cut off the life-spring of those aquatic ecosystems by filling in, ditching, dumping trash, and degrading even the smallest of streams, those effects accumulate and affect us all in ways we may or may not realize.
Or, if you're like myself, you see the intrinsic value in protecting natural gems like the Northern Red Salamander for future generations to discover.