A bear cub is foraging along the bank of the Taku River in Southeast Alaska. He rolls over a log, revealing a four-inch long dark brown salamander nestled in the mud. He gives it a sniff, but this is a long toed salamander, and it secretes noxious proteins in its moist skin, a defense that makes it taste bad. Long toed salamanders are also capable of autotomy - its tail can break off and wiggle, creating a squirming decoy while the salamander slinks away. That's not required in this case, the bear cub, deciding the tiny morsel is not very appealing, ambles on and catches up to his mother, and the salamander burrows into the mud until it's once again hidden.
Salamanders are found around the Taku and the Stikine Rivers in Southeast, where they presumably made their way down from British Columbia. Newts are more common although only one species, the rough-skin newt, is found in Alaska, and also, only in Southeast.
Long toed salamanders are true to their name, and the fourth toe on each back foot is noticeably longer. As adults, they're rarely seen because they live a subterranean lifestyle, digging and feeding on insects and worms in forest soils, decaying logs, and rock fissures. As amphibians, they're also aquatic and eat tadpoles and small fish. They can live 10 years, but rarely get bigger than about five inches long.
Like the tadpoles of frogs and toads, salamanders have a larval stage that is completely aquatic, with external gills. As the larvae matures and reaches about two inches in length, their limbs grow, then toes grow on their feet, their gills are resorbed, and then metamorphose into a small adult.
In warmer climates long toed salamanders are active all winter long. However, during the winter months in colder parts of its range, long-toed salamanders burrow underground and hibernate in clusters of a dozen or so individuals.