Could You Love A Salamander?

Can you imagine anyone being passionate about salamanders? Well, Dr. Peter Petokas, a biology professor at Lycoming College and Research Associate for the Clean Water Institute certainly is, as he showed at his interesting presentation Monday evening, May 9, at the Dancing Bear Lodge in Eastville in the heart of Clinton County’s beautiful Sugar Valley.

Entertaining an audience of between 20 and 25, Professor Petokas offered his slide presentation of all types of fascinating salamanders and a few other amphibians. He described their life cycles in vernal pools—bodies of water that exist in the spring, but then dry up come warmer weather. He explained that this is important to the safe development of the amphibians, as it prevents the presence of fish predators.

Professor Petokas’ speaking skills and enthusiasm for his subject riveted the attention of all those at the event, from grade-school-age children to older adults. His narration was filled with clearly conveyed knowledge (explaining such issues as natural and man-made creation of vernal pools, distinguishing characteristics of the various salamanders, energy flow between vernal pools and the forest, and reproductive cycles).

His true love of and excitement over these creatures also showed in his emotional outbursts, exclaiming at times: “That’s really, really cool!” “Isn’t it beautiful?” “These are gorgeous salamanders!” “Isn’t this incredible?” and “This is really amazing!”

Professor Petokas also passed around a tub with two live salamanders in it. The children in the audience were, of course, thrilled with this. He also passed around samples of material used in the creation of man-made vernal pools.

Credit for providing this free program for the public goes to Lucy Heggenstaller, owner of the Dancing Bear Lodge, and to the Sugar Valley Watershed Association. Dancing Bear Lodge (a retreat and conference center with a strong commitment to education, especially in the arts) is a beautifully restored building in the small hamlet of Eastville; the structure had been the community’s original Brethren church back in the 1800s.    

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