Last night as the light started to fade, I found two lungless salamanders at Blackwater Creek in Lynchburg, VA. A redback salamander (Plethodon cinereus) was hanging out under an old rail road tie and a southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) was curled up under a rock in a shallow freshwater stream.
The second find turned out to be the most enlightening. I took my pictures through the iNaturalist app and the pictures loaded with the included GPS coordinates. However, by the time I got home I had a notification that one of my ID’s had been contested on the app. iNaturalist does not consider the observation to be usable until the ID is verified. I had initially identified the second salamander as a northern two-lined salamander (Eurycea bislineata), not knowing that the southern species lived this far north. Within thirty minutes of uploading my photo, I’d already been given a correction. As it turns out, the biggest difference between the northern and southern species is that the two lateral black lines run all the way down the tail in E. cirrigera and only halfway down the tail in E. bislineata. I wouldn’t have known that if it weren’t for the correction provided by other observers on the app.
So what happens if you don’t like the suggestions other users give? Well, you can choose whether or not to accept or reject the correction. However, if you reject the correction or if your picture isn’t clear enough to be verified, your observation isn’t considered to be “research grade.” Click here for a more in-depth explanation of how the process works.
Another feature I like about this app is its comprehensive database. Once a photo is uploaded, an algorithm of some kind is used to load possible matches (I got three different species suggestions for both observations). If you’re not sure what you’ve found, this feature can help narrow it down. You can click on the suggestions and find fact sheets for nearly every species, along with little GPS dots showing you how many individuals from that species have been found in your area.
I had almost as much fun playing with the app as I did finding my salamanders. It’s still very early in the year but I’m so glad my slimy little friends are finally making an appearance!!