In my last post, I wrote about some cool salamanders that have some interesting abilities. Hopefully you gained an appreciation for these interesting creatures that are important to the health of wetland communities. I also uncovered the secret the origin of firebenders (cross a fire salamander with a hellbender) and promised to reveal the largest salamander in the world. In this post, I’ll come through on that promise, discuss interesting behaviors, and make at least one joke along the way. By the way, did you know that some Fire Salamanders evolve the ability to produce heat from the tip of their tail and use it to char their prey? This is how charmanders are born.
This fire salamander is not impressed with my joke.
The largest salamander in the world, capable of growing to almost 2 meters in length and weighing over 100 pounds, is the Chinese Giant Salamander (Andrias davidianus). There are a couple of things you should stop and take note of here. First of all, I just used the metric system and the imperial system in the same sentence. Please don’t attack me in the comments. Secondly, the species name includes the name “David”, possibly referring to David fighting the giant Goliath. Maybe Andrias = Andre the Giant? I should probably stop now. Anyway, the Giant Salamander is currently listed as critically endangered due to sinking populations. Though habitat loss is certainly an issue, the main cause of population declines appears to be due to the farming industry. That’s right, there are salamander farms in China because salamanders are considered a delicacy. The problem is, giant salamanders aren’t able to reproduce until sexual maturity, which can take several years. As demand for the salamanders grows, local populations have been slow to rebound. The methods used to capture giant salamanders have escalated, as poachers have been known to use electrofishing, poisons (which impact other stream and rivers species), and even dynamite! There is also the issue of captive salamanders contracting diseases which may been passed on to wild populations if released. Conservationists are doing what they can to limit genetic inbreeding and the spread of diseases
Check out this video of a giant salamander moving through a stream bed. http://www.arkive.org/chinese-giant-salamander/andrias-davidianus/video-06.html
Next up is one of the most common salamanders in the eastern U.S. – the Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). I often came across these critters during herpetology field trips or nighttime road surveys. As their name suggests, Spotted Salamanders have two rows of yellow/orange spots that cascade down the back to the tail. Like many other species, they are fossorial, meaning they are adapted to utilizing underground burrows and tunnels. They generally nocturnal, and are more likely to be seen during a rainy night in the breeding season. If you live in their range and are interested in seeing one, take a flashlight and go out on a rainy evening in the early spring. Look near roads located by streams, creeks, or forested wetlands. Females will often lay clumps of eggs near algae in shallow pools.
Now it’s time to move on to another unusual amphibian.
Whoops, wrong picture. Let me try again.
Argh, give me one more chance.
There we go. The Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), also known as the Mexican Walking Fish, is an unusual-looking aquatic salamander that has a condition called neotony. Neotony means that the salamander retains larval characteristics (such as a dorsal fin, external gills, and mediocre piano-playing capabilities) throughout its life. The Axolotl is listed as critically endangered and has a very limited range along the southern portion of Mexico City. Though wild populations have struggled, the good news is that Axolotls have done well in captivity and researchers efforts to reintroduce this species into the wild may be effective in the near future. The main concern is water pollution, which spreads through canals as the city continues to expand. Another cool feature of Axolotls is that they are capable of regeneration! If an individual is wounded during a fight, he/she can regenerate tissue to replace a lost limb! Though many salamanders are capable of regrowing their tails, Axolotls can also regenerate skin, legs, and even portions of their spinal cord without visible scarring! This amazing ability has caught the interest of researchers, who trying to utilize the Axolotl’s capabilities to develop possible mechanisms for human tissue regeneration. One day, it may be possible to regrow human organs for transplants or fight cancer cells using knowledge of the Axolotl’s regenerative processes!
Hopefully you’re now starting to get a sense of how cool and important salamanders can be! Make an effort to find out where salamanders live in your region and develop an appreciation for wetland life. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to zap Axolotl cells with radioactive particles so that I will gain regenerative powers and become a superhero.