WOODY: Georgia is finally No. 1 in something ... and it ain’t football!

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I read a story the other day that said Georgia is No. 1 in the nation in salamanders.

Frankly, I suspect that Georgia would rather be No. 1 in the college football polls, but I guess you take a top ranking when you can get it -- even if it is for having the most slimy little critters in the Union.

I have just one question: How do they know which state has the most salamanders? Does someone from the federal government go around in each state, looking under rocks and counting them?

A creek runs through my back yard and it's slithering with salamanders. Yet I've never seen anyone from the government conducting an official Salamander Survey.

("Hello. I'm from the Federal Bureau of Salamanders and I'm here to count your lizards.")

Maybe I should call the feds tell them they've overlooked some. The story didn't say where Tennessee ranks in the Salamander Poll but if they'll count the ones in my creek it will certainly boost us in the ratings.

According to the story, Georgia has 58 species of salamanders, more than a 10th of the salamanders known worldwide. Maybe Georgia should change its nickname from the "Peach State" to "Lizard-land."

What's Georgia's big attraction? A salamander scientist says that state has a "moisture-rich Southern Appalachians habitat" that is ideal for the little amphibians.

I'll bet that right now there's a salamander couple in Cleveland, Ohio - Sal and Mandy -- working hard, saving their money, and dreaming of someday retiring to their dream home in Ringgold, Georgia, at an RV park named the Lazy Lizard.

The latest find - perhaps the one that put Georgia over the top - was a "patch- nosed salamander" that is supposedly the world's smallest. (Again, who's responsible for measuring salamanders?

It seems like an odd job, even for the federal government.)

Anyway, this one is about an inch long. That means it's too small for fish bait, which is what we used salamanders for as kids.

Back then we called them "spring lizards" and they were deadly bait for every species of fish, especially big bass. Ralph and Tony and I would go down to the swampy bottoms and lift logs and rocks and catch a bucketful of spring lizards. Sometimes by the time we'd collected our salamanders we were too pooped to go fishing.

Old-timers claimed there wasn't a better bait than a fresh, wriggling salamander. I guess you could say that Georgia is No. 1 in fish bait.

It should be noted that in Tennessee it is against the law to capture and keep any wild critter, including a salamander. I guess that means as kids we were involved in an illicit lizard crime spree.

Hopefully the salamander statute of limitations has expired. If not, I'll turn state's evidence on Ralph and Tony: honest officer, they did the catching -- I just held the bucket.

The Georgia salamander story got me to thinking: I wonder what sort of critter might get Tennessee a No. 1 ranking?

Based on a summer camping trip, it could be chiggers. If there's a state that has more than we do, you don't want unroll a sleeping bag there.

I don't know how to determine if we're the nation's No. 1 Chigger State. Maybe there's some sort of formula based on bites-per-square-inch, or a computer ranking like the one that determines the college football championship.

I think we should just go ahead and announce that we're No. 1 in little red bugs. Like Georgia's claim to Lizard- Land, who's going to dispute it?

If someone wants to challenge our chiggers, bring 'em on. We're itching for a fight.

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Georgia, Larry Woody, Opinions, Salamanders
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