These two tiny creatures are yellow spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) that my husband dug up when he was cleaning the drain in our dirt cellar – part of the continuing work on our new foundation.
These are our first cellar salamanders, but our neighbor had one living for years in his wet basement. Apparently this is not unusual. Yellow spotted salamanders can live as long as 20 years and except for their mating season in March or April (depending on when nighttime temperatures are over 40 degrees) when they return to the vernal pool where they were born, they are happy to stay in their burrow. Their burrows are often made by other small creatures, but sometimes they can be found under forest litter. Their only requirement is that their living space be dark and damp.
Some people keep track of spring weather and temperatures so they can go out to watch the salamanders mate. They travel to their birth pool and the males deposit a sack of sperm (a spermatophore) at the edge of the pond. They they swim around in the pool with the females until they persuade one female to come to his spermatophore and nestle herself onto it so that it goes inside her through a little flap. (Not the most scientific terminology here).
After she lays her eggs they will hatch in 31 to 54 days, again depending on temperatures. After 61- 110 day the baby salamanders will leave the pool for find a burrow or cellar where they will pretty much stay, eating earthworms, slugs and insects, until it is time to return to their birth pool and mate.
My husband was going to move these little creatures to a safer spot, away from the construction, but they obviously got the message, and by the time he organized himself, they had taken off for parts unknown. All we know is that it will be dark and damp.