Last week I arrived in Slovakia where I will stay for the next 6 weeks or so. I have never been here at this time of year although I was warned that March can still be a very cold month. So far the day temperatures have not exceeded 7-8c and some nights have been very cold, getting down to -12. All of the higher ground is still hidden under a blanket of snow although the lowlands are starting to thaw out now. Slovakia must be one of the best countries in Europe for Fire salamanders (Salamandra salamandra) as the majority of the country is covered with densely forested areas with many pristine brooks running through them at a range of altitudes. However, as every night is currently well below freezing there is not yet any activity. Or so I thought….My friend Andrej mentioned to me that there is a special place where salamanders are active all through the winter and surprisingly it is not in a lowland location but quite high up in the mountains.
These salamanders are only able to remain active over the winter because the small cave where they spend that time keeps a constant temperature and never drops below freezing. The small opening was not easy to find but after a while we found the cave in the side of the hillside. Upon entering it was immediately obvious how much warmer it was inside compared to the 1c afternoon temperature outside! We ended up finding over a dozen salamanders of all sizes and ages inside this small cave, all active and benefiting from this shelter from the brutal winter weather outside. We even saw a gravid female, a juvenile and a number of larvae. Indeed the vast majority of Slovakia’s salamanders will not be able to become active until at least April and those at higher altitudes not until May.
With more cold weather on the way I may have to wait for more amphibian activity here.