The Parks Department is enlisting middle schoolers to help document city-dwelling salamanders, amphibians that are valuable indicators of the condition of forests.
“Be careful!” shouted a seventh grader from Coney Island’s Mark Twain Intermediate School 239 for the Gifted and Talented.
In September, the students trekked to the Hudson Highlands to collect data on the specimens there.
“Don’t grab him by the tail,” warned another.
“I think he’s scared,” said a third.
The students were gathered around a red-backed salamander deep in the woods on Staten Island. A shiny black squiggle, it was jumping around in the cupped hands of their teacher, Aimee Kemp, who was determined to show them how she could tell it was a male.
New York City used to be salamander central, but while the red-backed salamander still thrives under rocks and logs, other species have disappeared.
The tiger salamander was gone by the 1930s, the marbled salamander by the 1970s. The four-toed salamander was last spotted in 1979. These days, the northern dusky salamander is found in only one location in Manhattan, Highbridge Park in Upper Manhattan, while the spotted and northern red salamanders are considered rare.