Our two trips to the woods yesterday couldn't really have been more different. The morning trip to Naugatuck State Forest was all about flowers and butterflies and other brightly-colored things. The afternoon trip to Southford Falls State Park turned up many interesting things as well, but all these things were snuggled down in the dirt. Just because they're denizens of decaying leaves and logs, however, that doesn't mean they're not beautiful.
Take, for example, this fantastic creature, whose tail greeted me when I lifted up a small log next to the path:
My best guess is that this is a Blue-spotted Salamander, and a young one at that -- it was only 2 or 3 inches long, whereas adults are supposed to be more on the order of 8 inches. I moved some more leaf litter to try to get a better shot of its whole salamander body, but for some reason my camera was rebelling, and this is the best I ended up with:
I have never seen one of these salamanders before, and I'm in love. So cute!
Incidentally, I'm hedging my bets with my species identification here because apparently Blue-spotted Salamanders frequently hybridize with another species of salamander in Connecticut, the Jefferson Salamander. So without being an expert on these things (and possibly even without DNA tests), it's pretty much impossible for me to tell whether this creature is all Blue-spotted Salamander or some amount of hybrid.... Basically, a guess will have to do! Also, both Blue-spotted and Jefferson Salamander "complexes" (hybrids) are listed as species of special concern in Connecticut, and pure diploid Blue-spotted Salamanders are endangered in the state -- so whatever this little fellow is, I'll consider it a real treat to have met him or her!
(N.B.: The genetics of this particular salamander and its hybrids is really crazy, involving things like all-female populations and "unisexual" reproduction. I definitely don't understand it all, but if you're interested in learning more, here's one place to start.)
So that was the highlight of the trip for me, but there were other fun things on the forest floor as well. Even this little millipede had its own special beauty, glittering like a string of jewels in the dappled sunlight (maybe you just had to be there):
Also scattered along the path was some wonderfully intricate coral fungi. I don't know exactly what species these are, but first there was this fun pointy variety, like a crowd of tiny antlers emerging from the ground:
And then these delicate purple forms -- this really does look like coral, and such a lovely hue:
I love how there's always something interesting to see in the woods, and if I have to get down into the dirt to meet awesome new creatures, then that's fine with me! :D