Wildlife Watch: Managing Vermont’s mudpuppies

MILTON, Vt. (WCAX) – Vermont biologists are studying the region’s mudpuppy population. Our Ike Bendavid joined the crews and learned why the research is being done.

It’s a cloudy day on the Lamoille River in Milton where Vermont Fish and Wildlife Biologist Mark Ferguson and crew are studying mudpuppies.

“We are getting ready to check our first trap in this array. We have three arrays set in the river, eight traps each… Each of the traps is baited with fresh minnows. Every two days, we come in and check,” Ferguson said.

Despite the name, mudpuppies are salamanders. They are the state’s only completely aquatic salamander and also the largest.

“They retain their larval characteristics when they are adults. They keep their gills. Most salamanders that have gills as larvae, they don’t retain those. They lose them when they become adults. Mudpuppies will keep them, which helps them in an aquatic environment to obtain the oxygen that they need,” Ferguson explained. “They are definitely part of our natural environment and they have their own purpose out in the stream. They are a predator of minnows and crayfish. They are taken by other animals, especially when they are small, can be preyed upon by birds, fish, turtles, things like that.”

Ferguson has been out on the banks of the Lamoille setting up traps for the last few weeks.

“Our purpose is that we are trying to take those that we trap and move them upstream to establish a novel population, a new population upstream of Arrowhead Mountain Lake. The purpose of that is that we would like to have a reservoir of animals because there is some concern in the lower tributaries of how mudpuppies are doing,” he said.

On this day, we checked multiple traps but only found crayfish. Despite not finding any mudpuppies, Ferguson says that’s uncommon and the state is working hard to make sure the population stays strong.

“The long-term goal is that we have mudpuppies in our rivers for the long term as a permanent feature of our ecosystem and not to lose them,” Ferguson said. “This is just a tool that we are using, setting aside a reservoir of these animals so if we do lose some of the populations, we can use this for reestablishing.”

The traps are only out until mid-April. Ferguson says if you see one, leave it be.

Click here for more on mudpuppies from the Vermont Reptile & Amphibian Atlas.

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