Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — They call him “Claussen” because he’s slimy like a pickle.
Claussen, named after a brand of pickles, is an 8-year-old tiger salamander who visited the Fairfield Public Library Wednesday during a program put on by a representative of the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines. Claudia Adamson, a seasonal educator at the zoo, brought a salamander and leopard gecko to show the audience assembled in the library’s conference room.
The event was scheduled for Chautauqua Park but was moved to the library due to the extreme heat. About 80 people attended the two sessions Adamson led.
Fairfield Youth Services Librarian Alecs Mickunas said it was a lower attendance than previous animal ambassador programs, but also the library’s best attended event of the summer. He noted that a library volunteer went to Chautauqua Park to direct members of the public to the library, and the park and rec department put up signs, too.
Adamson brought the salamander and gecko in a couple of coolers and held them for the audience to see, but not touch. She said the zoo had implemented a new policy last year of not allowing the public to touch animals or even get too close to them because this put the animals under stress.
Nevertheless, the children in the audience were thrilled to see a couple of unusual species and had many questions about them.
One child asked Adamson if she could put the salamander down and let him run around. Adamson said she could not, because he would get sick easily. She added that it would not be wise to let Claussen return to the wild, either, since he has become accustomed to being fed by humans and is not used to finding his own food.
Another child asked Adamson how the zoo gets its animals. She said they come from other zoos, are born in the zoo, or in a few cases are animals that have been rescued after suffering an injury. She said the zoo does not trap animals in the wild to put on display.
“If they’re in the wild, we want them to stay there,” she said.
The children were curious to know why the salamander has slimy skin, and Adamson said it has to do with the important role this mucus plays in bodily functions. Salamanders, like other amphibians, breathe through their skin and drink through it too, and thus do not need to consume water through their mouth. In fact, because air and water pass easily through their skin, salamanders are susceptible to toxins in their environment. Adamson said that the presence of salamanders in a body of water is a good indication the water is clean.
Adamson noted that one of the most interesting features of salamanders is that they can regrow lost body parts such as a limb or eyeball. Vision plays a minor role in guiding a salamander through the world since its eyesight is poor and relies instead on touch to navigate its surroundings.
Salamanders play an important role in the ecosystem by eating bugs such as mosquito larvae, flies, spiders, worms and crickets, to name a few.
Wednesday’s program was of special interest to one audience member, Gwen Sutherland, because she has both a leopard gecko and salamander as pets. She said her family got the salamander from a friend who worked at a jail and found it outside the building. The friend took the salamander home, but it didn’t get along with her cats, so she gave it to the Sutherlands. Gwen said her family refers to their salamander as an “escaped convict" because of where he was found.
Gwen said her family’s gecko and salamander need to be sprayed with water to keep their skin moist. She said they feed the salamander live crickets and roly-polies, also known as pill bugs.