While Plein air painting this past Saturday morning, I was packing up my gear to high-tail it outta there (cold and a bad day in the "office"). Lo and behold I saw something small and twig-like crossing my path. It was a sizeable (8 inches) salamander of all things! Crawling through icy, wet mud. A one-eyed eastern striped salamander. I did a double take. Thank goodness it was moving slowly. Being the wuss that I am I dumped my water reservoir and let "spotty", as we affectionately refer to him now, to slowly crawl inside. I threw some dead leaves in there for good measure.
I arrived home announcing a "surprise"! My 4 year old thought I was great for bringing her a pet. I was excited to show the kids. My 1 year old kept saying "no like, no like" and didn't want to even look at it. To be fair, it looked kinda slimy. I can only imagine that a 1 year old thought it was exactly that: moving slime. Yikes, I would "no like" that too. The great news here is:
1) The kids like it (well most of them)
2) My wussiness in not picking it up paid off. According to my Google search, the State Amphibian of Illinois (aka: eastern striped salamander, aka: spotty) emits toxins that are harmful to humans. I have no idea how harmful. But I'm glad I didn't find out while driving home in traffic on the Kennedy.
3) Bitchin' exit strategy.
What's amazing in all of this how much a good deed really pays off. You see, as Spotty is toxic, I and the girls don't have to doddle around and hold him or pet him. He likes to burrow himself in dirt, so he's kept in a large fish tank with mulchy dirt from our garden. As the dirt already has grubs and creepy crawlies, I don't have to buy food or feed it. In fact, when I put spotty in his habitat he immediately burrowed and was undetectable. This is a built-in exit strategy. The girls won't be physically seeing him often so they will soon forget he's taking up space in their play room. If I ever have to send him back to the swamp I can do so with minimal collateral damage. Darn, I'm good. All you skeptics can stop asking "then why have a friggin' pet". Duh, because kids like it!
Oh, one other bonus. If the kids get outta line or drop the f-bomb I can always threaten that they'll have to lick the salamander. (Like in the episodes of "The Simpsons" where Homer licks a toad and goes on a psychedelic trip). When the kids are teenagers they'll probably do it just to impress their friends. Maybe there's a sedative quality. Maybe mommy needs to lick the salamander? (Uh, er? - moving on...) Seriously folks, the toxicity is minimal. They secret a toxin behind their hind legs. If a person touches this small, hard-to-get-at area, then ingests it somehow (eating w/0 washing their hands) it could be harmful. How harmful? I can't seem to find that on Google (gasp!*!).