What a prehistoric salamander ate


Phosphotriton sigei

This picture shows a three-dimensional reconstruction of the skeleton of Phosphotriton sigei gen. et sp. nov. (B), scaled to the same length as other Eurasian urodeles: a European plethodontid, Hydromantes italicus Dunn, 1923 (A), and two salamandrids, Hypselotriton orientalis (David, 1873) (C) and Salamandra salamandra (Linnaeus, 1758) (D).

From ScienceDaily:

Ancient petrified salamander reveals its last meal

Researchers identify frog bones within the stomach of a 35 million year old ‘mummified’ salamander fossil using advanced x-ray imaging techniques. At least six kinds of organs are preserved in almost perfect condition

October 3, 2017

A new study on an exceptionally preserved salamander from the Eocene of France reveals that its soft organs are conserved under its skin and bones. Organs preserved in three dimensions include the lung, nerves, gut, and within it, the last meal of the animal, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ by a team of palaeontologists from France and Switzerland.

Accessing the complete anatomy of an extinct animal, i.e. both its external and internal aspects, has often been the dream of palaeontologists. Indeed, in 99% of cases, fossils are only represented by hard parts: bones, shells, etc. Fossils preserving soft tissues exist, but they are extremely rare. However, their significance for science is enormous. What did the animal look like? What did they eat? How did they live? Most of these questions can be answered by exceptionally preserved fossils.

The newly studied fossil externally looks like a present-day salamander, but it is made of stone. This fossil “mummy” is the only known specimen of Phosphotriton sigei, a 40-35 million years old salamander and belongs to the same family as the famous living fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra).

It is unfortunately incomplete: only the trunk, hip and part of hind legs and tail are preserved. Until very recently, the only thing palaeontologists could tell about this specimen was visible anatomical details, such as the cloaca, the orifice used for reproduction and by digestive and urinary canals. Indeed, though it was discovered in the 1870s, it was never studied in detail.

Thanks to recent synchrotron technology, its skeleton and various organs could be studied. The specimen was scanned at the ID19 beamline of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble (France). This modern technology gave access to an incredible level of details that could never have been achieved before without slicing the specimen into a series of thin sections.

The quality of preservation is such that looking at the tomograms (equivalent of radiograms) feels like going through an animal in the flesh. At least six kinds of organs are preserved in almost perfect condition, in addition to the skin and skeleton: muscles, lung, spinal cord, digestive tract, nerves, and glands.

But the most incredible is the preservation of frog bones within the stomach of the salamander. Salamanders almost never eat frogs or other salamanders, though they are known to be quite opportunistic. Was it a last resort meal or a customary choice for this species? This, unfortunately, will probably never be known.

These new results are described by Jérémy Tissier from the Jurassica Museum and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, and Jean-Claud Rage and Michel Laurin, both from the CNRS/Museum national d’histoire naturelle/UPMC in Paris.

Author Michel Laurin notes, “This fossil, along with a few others from the same lost site, is the most incredibly well-preserved that I have seen in my entire career. And now, 140 years after its discovery, and 35 million years after the animal died, we can finally study it, thanks to modern technology. The mummy returns!”

Advertisements

British government threatens great crested newts


This video from Britain says about itself:

26 May 2015

A short video detailing the life of a female great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) broadcast on the BBC television show Springwatch. Michaela narrates the story of a female newt who has just come out of hibernation and is looking for a mate. The clip is from the first episode of Springwatch from 2015.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

An endangered delight

Friday 1st September 2017

The rare dragon newt is under threat from housing development – best try and spot it while you can, suggests PETER FROST

NEW rules and how they are interpreted by Natural England, Defra and Michael Gove, the Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, are making it much easier for builders to disturb and move populations of one of our most exotic wild animals, the rare and threatened great crested newt (Triturus cristatus), also known as the dragon newt.

Perhaps this change of policy is a payback to some of the Tory house builders and developers that he met and begged donations from in his time as shadow minister of housing from 2007 to 2010.

The new guidelines will certainly do nothing to preserve and promote this spectacular but threatened [amphibian] that is such a brave sight in our ponds.

The “dragons” in my local pond arrived late this year. Snow, and weather cold enough to freeze the pond, had delayed their arrival.

Once the weather warmed up the black beasts with their fire bellies and their darting tongues entertained us with their curious mating dance among the reeds and lily pads.

It’s a delight to lie on the side of the pond and quietly watch these rare creatures. They might only be six or seven inches long but close up they are as impressive as any dragon in a story book. Years ago as a young boy I kept them as pets in a fish tank. We know better now and today this particular newt is one of the most protected animals in Britain and Europe.

The great crested is the biggest and least common of the three newts found in the British Isles. Another similar amphibian is the smooth or common newt (Lissotriton vulgaris, but still listed in many books as Triturus vulgaris). This species is found throughout Britain and is the only newt species to be found in Ireland.

It can grow to four inches and is the species most often found in ponds, including garden ponds, during the breeding season between February and June.

Britain’s other small brown newt is the Palmate (Triturus helveticus). It is a little smaller than the Smooth Newt, rarely reaching three inches.

It has a definite preference for shallow ponds on acid soils and is most commonly found on heathland in the south and west and, in the north, on moorland and in bogs.

A good field guide and many websites will have pictures to help you recognise the three species.

Since the war, populations of great crested newts have declined in most of Europe including in Wales and Scotland. Heavily protected by law, it clawed its way back. Now in Gove’s safe hands, who knows its fate.

If you want to identify dragon newts, look for dark grey-brown backs and flanks, and a covering of darker-coloured spots so they appear almost black. Their undersides are either bright yellow or orange-coloured and are covered in large, black blotches. Real experts can recognise individual newts by the unique blotch patterns on their undersides.

Only the males have a spectacular jagged crest, which runs along their backs, during the breeding season. A separate, smoother-edged crest runs above and below their tails.

Females have no crest but have a yellow-orange stripe along the lower edge of their tails and often an orange stripe along their backs and tails.

The newts normally live on land but take to ponds to breed. A larger male performs a spectacular courtship display, a kind of dance during which he deposits a small packet of sperm in the path of the female.

Then he swims sideways in front of her to gently encourage her into a position where the packet will be pressed against her and picked up by her cloaca, her sexual opening. It’s sex, but not as we know it.

Once fertilised, the female can start to lay two or three eggs a day. She will keep laying for as long as four months until 200 to 300 eggs have been laid.

The eggs, each carefully wrapped in a leaf, are laid on submerged aquatic plants. The larvae or efts hatch after about three weeks and then live in the pond as aquatic predators. The newts will have chosen a pond with no fish as they eat the efts.

The latter transform into air-breathing baby newts at about four months old, when they move on to dry land until they are old enough to breed in two or three years’ time.

Throughout October to March, adult newts hibernate under logs and stones or in the mud at the bottom of their breeding ponds.

The newts normally return to the same breeding site each year and can live as long as 25 years, although up to about 10 years is more usual.

If, like me, you like nature a bit more out of the box did you know that many serious Loch Ness Monster hunters believe Nessie is in fact a giant newt or the closely related salamander? It was identified as such as long ago as 1931. The shape was always right until forged pictures started the illusion of the long, dinosaur-like neck.

Both Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders grow to nearly six feet. They love deep, dark waters and are so secretive that they are rarely ever seen. You can make up your own mind.

Promiscuous salamander reproduction research


This 2015 video is called Ambystoma andersoni, Anderson’s Salamander.

From the University of Iowa in the USA:

Promiscuous salamander found to use genes from three partners equally

Finding points to the inventive ways animals balance genetics and reproduction so their species will thrive

June 12, 2017

Summary: A study shows that a unique all-female lineage of salamander equally balances genes from the males of three other salamander species. The findings highlight the bizarre ways some animals reproduce in order to preserve their species.

A promiscuous salamander has found a simple genetic formula for success: Mate with multiple males and use equal parts of each partner’s genetic material in her offspring.

A University of Iowa-led team of biologists analyzed the genome of Ambystoma, a six-million-year-old salamander lineage that produces only female offspring. The team found most of its genetic profile is made up of equal contributions from males of three separate salamander species — Ambystoma laterale, Ambystoma texanum, and Ambystoma tigrinum.

The researchers think the all-female salamander’s balanced genome points to the bizarre ways some animals — from all-female populations of fish, lizards, and others — can use their genomes to maximize their chances of success.

“We’re hypothesizing the successful individuals have balanced gene expression,” says Maurine Neiman, associate professor in biology at the UI and an author on the paper, published in the journal Genome Biology and Evolution. “This balance might have been a prerequisite for the emergence and continued success of this particular hybrid lineage.”

Sexual reproduction is dominant in the animal world. The unisexual Ambystoma salamander engages in sex, but with a slightly different purpose. When it mates, the female acquires the male’s genes and then keeps only some, discarding others. This is known as kleptogenesis, or the theft of genetic material from male donors for reproductive purposes.

The UI researchers wondered how choosy the unisexual female is about which genes it keeps and uses when mating with males from different sexual salamander species. Using a specimen from the lab of Ohio State University biologist and study co-author H. Lisle Gibbs, the team analyzed nearly 3,000 genes in a unisexual female with three genomes (called a triploid). Of that total, they found 72 percent of the genes provided by the three male partners were expressed equally.

In other words, the all-female salamander chose to use roughly the same number of genes from each salamander species.

“It’s mostly balanced. The three genomes are mostly being expressed equally in this hybrid,” says Kyle McElroy, a graduate student in Neiman’s lab and the paper’s corresponding author. “What we’d like to find out is how the choosing and using occurs, and how these genes from different sexual salamander species come together to make a successful hybrid.”

It could be a case of keeping things simple. McElroy likens it to a sports team having a roster of equally competent players, with no star athlete whose injury would cripple its success.

“If you have a team that’s unbalanced and loses a top player, you won’t win,” says McElroy, a fourth-year graduate student from St. Louis. “But if every player is equal, then you don’t lose as much.”

So, rather than the female salamander individually selecting genes from the thousands available to her — a complicated process — the salamander appears to have found a balanced ratio of genes from the males of the other three species that works for her, and has settled on that.

“It would be difficult to maintain without balance,” McElroy says, “and that may be the key to this hybrid’s success.”

Smooth newt swims, video


This 22 May 2017 video shows a smooth newt swimming.

Bregje Brinkmann made this video of her garden pond in the Netherlands.

Rare amphibian babies hatching in Slovenian cave


This video says about itself:

30 May 2016

Postojna Cave (Postojnska jama) in Slovenia – In January 2016 an extraordinary event has happened. The female olm (Proteus anguinus) has started laying eggs in the aquarium of the cave in front of visitors. After four months 24 embryos are developing well and already “practicing their dragon dance“. This is a funny video of baby dragon embryos rotating in their jellies – a few steps from hatching. But their destiny is still uncertain so please keep your fingers crossed.

See also here.

Great crested newts in the Netherlands


This 7 April 2016 Dutch video shows wildlife wardens Hanne and Richard, looking for great crested newts in the Netherlands.

New crested newt species discovered in Turkey: here.

Students save salamanders from death


This music video from the Netherlands is called Harry Sacksioni – De Paddentrek (Toad Migration).

Translated from Vroege Vogels radio in the Netherlands today:

Behind VHL college in Leeuwarden [in Friesland province] is a small river, the Potmarge. In early spring small amphibians there in the morning and the evening cross in order to reproduce. There, they cross the bike path on which they are often crushed by cyclists and scooter riders. Alumni Carlijn Lanrijssens and her classmate Tariq Stark sometimes found thirty killed smooth newts on the bike path. “We thought that really can not go on next to a green college. Moreover, it is unique that there is such a large population of newts so close to downtown,” said Carlijn.

Tariq and Carlijn took the initiative to rescue the animals. With the help of the municipality of Leeuwarden, two 130-meter fences were placed along the Potmarge. On both sides of them thirty buckets were buried. A group of students now twice a day bends over the buckets to free the salamanders and to transfer them safely. Sometimes they also find unfortunate frogs and toads. In each bucket is a stick or a twig. “In that way, mice can climb out.” Students register numbers and sex of the salamanders, to understand the size of the population.

Across the country with the help of volunteers last year more than 270,000 amphibians were transferred.

For some salamanders, finding a mate is a marathon. Treadmill, genetic tests show amphibians travel several kilometers to reproduce. By Laurel Hamers, 7:15pm, December 20, 2016: here.