Rare Japanese salamanders, new research

This January 2019 video says about itself:

After the new setup for my group of Hida salamanders (Hynobius kimurae) is finished (setup video and information: here), it’s time to let them move in.

So here’s a short video of these salamanders in their new tank. The group consists of four adult H. kimurae and one adult H. nigrescens.

General information on Hynobius kimurae:

“The Hida salamander (Hynobius kimurae) is a species of salamander in the family Hynobiidae, the Asiatic salamanders. It is endemic to Japan. It lives in deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forests, where it breeds in streams.”

Now, about relatives of these salamanders.

From Kobe University in Japan:

GIS and eDNA analysis system successfully used to discover new habitats of rare salamander

September 6, 2019

A research team has successfully identified an unknown population of the endangered Yamato salamander (Hynobius vandenburghi) in Gifu Prefecture, using a methodology combining GIS and eDNA analysis. This method could be applied to other critically endangered species, in addition to being utilized to locate small organisms that are difficult to find using conventional methods.

The study was conducted by students from the Bioscience team in Gifu Senior High School’s Nature and Science Club (which has been conducting research into the species for 13 years). They were supervised by teachers and aided by university researchers, including Professor Toshifumi Minamoto from Kobe University’s Graduate School of Human Development and Environment. The project was a collaboration between Gifu Senior High School, Kobe University, Gifu University and Gifu World Freshwater Aquarium.

It has been reported that there are approximately 50 Hynobius species of salamander worldwide, around 30 of which are endemic to Japan. Hynobius vandenburghi (until recently known by its previous classification of H. nebulosus), is only found in central and western Japan, with Gifu Prefecture marking the northeast limit of the species’ distribution. However, like approximately 60% of amphibian species in Japan, it falls under the ranking of critically endangered and vulnerable species, mainly due to habitat decline. Only three sites providing habitats for Yamato salamanders had been discovered in Gifu Prefecture up until recently.

The research team utilized a combined methodology of GIS and eDNA analysis with the aim of discovering more Yamato salamander habitats. GIS (Geographic Information System) is a spatial analysis tool that allows data and geographic information to be collected, displayed and analyzed. Environmental DNA analysis involves locating DNA of the species in the environment (in this case in water samples) to understand what kind of organisms live in that habitat.

First of all, environmental factors (such as vegetation, elevation, and gradient inclination and direction) present near the known habitats in Gifu Prefecture were identified, and this information was entered into the GIS to locate new potential habitats. This resulted in a total of five new potential sites being discovered- three in Gifu city and one site each in Kaizu and Seki cities.

Next, each site was visited and water samples were taken. Yamato salamander often lay their egg sacs in shallow water near rice paddies and wooded areas, so the water samples were taken from these environments. The samples were then analyzed for Yamato salamander eDNA. eDNA was discovered in the water from the Kaizu City site, the Seki City site and one of the Gifu City sites.

Field surveys were also conducted to find eggs or adult salamanders at each of the sites where eDNA was discovered. A single pair of egg sacs were found at the Kaizu city site. This lends support to the idea that the combined methodology of GIS and eDNA analysis can be successfully utilized to find new habitats of rare and elusive species like the Yamato salamander.

As this research was carried out by supervised high school students, it is anticipated that this combined methodology can be utilized not only by experts but also as a useful tool for citizen-led conservation efforts. Another advantage of the GIS and eDNA analysis method is that it requires less time, energy and funds compared to conventional field capture (locating animal specimens). This could prove invaluable for identifying and protecting the habitats of endangered species in the face of rapidly declining biodiversity worldwide.

Canadian carnivorous plants eat young salamanders

This 10 June 2019 video says about itself:

Botanical carnivory: Hungry plants and their salamander prey

Botanical carnivory: New research published by Algonquin Wildlife Research Station student Patrick Moldowan (University of Toronto, Canada), Alex Smith (University of Guelph, Canada), Njal Rollinson (University of Toronto), and colleagues (Teskey Baldwin, Tim Bartley, Hannah Wynen, University of Guelph) demonstrate a sinister side of the plant world. This video shows two young Spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) trapped in the pitcher of a Northern Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea), a carnivorous plant that lives in nutrient-poor bogs. Salamanders for supper? Yes!

Video by: Patrick D. Moldowan.

From the University of Guelph in Canada:

Bug-eating pitcher plants found to consume young salamanders, too

June 7, 2019

Summary: Pitcher plants growing in wetlands across Canada have long been known to eat creatures — mostly insects and spiders — that fall into their bell-shaped leaves and decompose in rainwater collected there. But researchers have discovered that vertebrates — specifically, salamanders — are also part of their diet.

Call it the “Little Bog of Horrors.” In what is believed to be a first for North America, biologists at the University of Guelph have discovered that meat-eating pitcher plants in Ontario’s Algonquin Park wetlands consume not just bugs but also young salamanders.

In a paper published this week in the journal Ecology, the research team reports what integrative biologist Alex Smith calls the “unexpected and fascinating case of plants eating vertebrates in our backyard, in Algonquin Park.”

Pitcher plants growing in wetlands across Canada have long been known to eat creatures — mostly insects and spiders — that fall into their bell-shaped leaves and decompose in rainwater collected there.

But until now, no one had reported this salamander species caught by a pitcher plant in North America, including Canada’s oldest provincial park, a popular destination where the plants have been observed for hundreds of years.

Noting how long the park has held its secret — despite generations of visiting naturalists, its proximity to major cities and a highway running through its southern end — Smith said, “Algonquin Park is so important to so many people in Canada. Yet within the Highway 60 corridor, we’ve just had a first.”

In summer 2017, then undergraduate student Teskey Baldwin found a salamander trapped inside a pitcher plant during a U of G field ecology course in the provincial park.

He’s a co-author on the new paper along with other researchers at U of G and the University of Toronto.

Monitoring pitcher plants around a single pond in the park in fall 2018, the team found almost one in five contained the juvenile amphibians, each about as long as a human finger. Several plants contained more than one captured salamander.

Those observations coincided with “pulses” of young salamanders crawling onto land after changing from their larval state in the pond. Smith said these bog ponds lack fish, making salamanders a key predator and prey species in food webs.

He said some of the animals may have fallen into the plants, perhaps attracted by insect prey. Others may have entered the plants to escape predators.

Some trapped salamanders died within three days, while others lived for up to 19 days.

Prey caught inside the plant’s specialized leaves is broken down by plant digestive enzymes and other organisms in the water held inside the leaf. Smith said other factors may kill salamanders in pitcher plants, including heat, starvation or infection by pathogens.

He said pitcher plants may have become carnivorous to gain nutrients, especially nitrogen, that are lacking in nutrient-poor bog soil.

Other flesh-eating plants grow in nutrient-poor environments around the world. They include sundews, which use their sticky leaves to catch insects, and the Venus flytrap, whose carnivory partly inspired the Seymour plant in the sci-fi musical Little Shop of Horrors.

Meat-eating pitcher plants have been known since the eighteenth century. One species discovered a decade ago in Asia consumes mostly insects and spiders but also captures small birds and mice.

Smith said the Algonquin Park discovery opens new questions for biologists. Are salamanders an important prey source for pitcher plants? Are the plants important “predators” of the amphibians? Might the salamanders compete with plants for insect prey — and even “choke” the plant?

Tongue-in-cheek, he added that the find may also prompt park officials to rewrite interpretive materials. “I hope and imagine that one day the bog’s interpretive pamphlet for the general public will say, ‘Stay on the boardwalk and watch your children. Here be plants that eat vertebrates.'”

Endangered Chinese giant salamander saved

This video is about endangered wild Chinese giant salamanders found near a river in Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of southwest China’s Sichuan province on May 17, 2019.

One of the giant salamanders was stuck in a crevice. Police and villagers managed to save and free it.

Amphibians in Germany, documentary

This 16 March 2019 video says about itself:

Into the Forest: Amphibian Nature Documentary

Journey for 90 days into a mysterious European forest to encounter some lesser known animals that may surprise you, especially the amphibians and reptiles.

Bryan Maltais takes you into a forest of southwest Germany to meet its wildlife as they emerge in the last days of Winter, and flourish through the breeding season into Summer. Large mammals, insects, amphibians and reptiles are featured in this whimsical tale.

The Fire Salamander and its plight with Bsal are featured. Bsal is a microscopic fungus that was accidentally imported into Europe and destroys the skin of many types of salamanders. The Fire Salamander is currently disappearing in parts of Europe due to the invasion by the non-native Bsal fungus. Watch this documentary to the end to learn about Bsal and how you can help prevent its spread.

Toxic but beautiful United States newts

This 5 April 2019 video says about itself:

On this episode of Breaking Trail: Legacy Series, we take a look back at the time Coyote and the crew caught a handful of TOXIC newts.. which also happen to be very adorable! On top of being adorable, these newts just so happen to be one of the most toxic in all of the US!

Breaking Trail leaves the map behind and follows adventurer and animal expert Coyote Peterson and his crew as they encounter a variety of wildlife in the most amazing environments on the planet!

Young hellbender salamanders, new study

This June 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

On this episode of Breaking Trail, Coyote Peterson and the crew find a GIANT Salamander!

America’s only Giant Salamander, the Hellbender, has become severely threatened in many states across the nation and has since become difficult for even researchers to locate.

On this adventure Coyote and the team are joined by field herpetologist Tim Brust who leads them to a top secret location where these enormous amphibians still exist in limited numbers. The goal of this expedition will be to collect field data and biometrics which will aid in further conservation efforts and enhance general public awareness so that these magnificent giants may continue to exist well into the future.

Get ready to see one of the biggest salamanders in the world…the Hellbender!

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

House hunting for hellbenders

Pick right-sized rock or be eaten by cannibal neighbors

March 25, 2019

For young hellbenders, choosing the right home is more than a major life decision. Their survival can depend on it.

These aquatic salamanders, natives of streams in the Ozarks and Appalachia, spend most of their life in the shadowy crevice between the underside of a rock and a river bed, picking off crayfish and, occasionally, each other.

In the first study of young hellbenders’ habitats, University of Florida ecology doctoral candidate Kirsten Hecht found that larvae tend to live under small rocks, progressively moving to larger rocks as they grow. Selecting a “just right” rock — too tiny for one’s bigger neighbors — could help young hellbenders avoid getting ambushed and eaten, Hecht said.

The findings could inform and improve conservation efforts, as the salamanders are in rapid decline across their range, primarily due to habitat loss and degradation.

“The ultimate goal is to restore hellbender populations so that they’re self-sustaining, but that’s basically impossible until we have the right habitat in place for them to survive and reproduce,” Hecht said. “We know very little about the habitats of young hellbenders. Having this information can help us start thinking about these factors as we restore streams.”

Hellbenders begin life as larvae less than an inch long and grow into adults that measure up to 2.5 feet. For humans, this is roughly equivalent to an average-size baby growing to be more than 31 feet tall. The dramatic size difference between young and adult hellbenders can result in cannibalism, Hecht said.

“They’ll eat almost anything they can fit in their mouths,” she said.

Selecting habitats of varying sizes helps hellbenders avoid competing with one another and potentially reduces cannibalism, said Hecht, who also works in the Division of Herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Her previous work showed that hellbenders also divide food resources, with larvae feeding on aquatic insects and adults eating crayfish and small fish.

While adults are often found under large boulders, little has been known about where young hellbenders shelter beyond a few anecdotal observations of larvae burrowing into gravel beds or hiding inside crevices in limestone.

Hecht and her collaborators gathered data on the homes of more than 200 hellbenders in the Little River of Tennessee, a sandstone environment where large amounts of sand make it difficult for larvae to bury into gravel.

Larvae, hellbenders about 5 inches long or smaller, lived under boulders averaging about 1.5 feet in length. Subadults, 5 to 11 inches long, tended to shelter under boulders a little over 2 feet long. Adults selected boulders with an average length of about 2.5 feet.

“It’s like ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears'”, Hecht said. “They’re sort of self-separating their average shelter size.”

One décor preference Hecht noticed among hellbenders of all sizes? Coarse gravel flooring.

“People had previously looked at gravel and cobble but hadn’t divided them into subcategories,” she said. “What’s neat about this is that it’s not just gravel. It’s this specific type of gravel. That’s really important because it could relate to how much space and prey are available under the rock.”

But Hecht cautioned against applying the study’s findings to all streams, which can vary in geology and ecology.

“You can’t necessarily take the results from this stream and assume they hold true for all streams,” she said. “But you can recognize that rock and gravel size are having some type of impact. There are things we can do across the range, but the way they’re implemented has to be locally determined.”

Hecht said people can help protect hellbenders by leaving river rocks undisturbed; releasing hellbenders caught on fishing hooks or line; reporting hellbender sightings to a local Department of Natural Resources; and minimizing the use of pesticides and herbicides, which can affect water quality in streams.

“When you have a stream with healthy hellbenders, that means you also have good drinking water, a good trout stream — other things people tend to care about are doing well if hellbenders are doing well,” she said.

Michael Freake of Lee University, Max Nickerson of the Florida Museum and Phil Colclough of Zoo Knoxville also co-authored the study.

How Italian crested newts eat, new research

This 2010 video says about itself:

The Italian Crested Newt (Triturus carnifex) is a species of salamander in the Salamandridae family. It is found in Albania, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Its natural habitats are temperate forests, temperate shrubland, Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation, swamps, freshwater lakes, intermittent freshwater lakes, freshwater marshes, intermittent freshwater marshes, pastureland, plantations , rural gardens, water storage areas, ponds, and open excavations. It is threatened by habitat loss.

From the Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena in Germany:

Salamanders chew with their palate

Zoology research team discovers potentially primeval chewing behavior in salamandrids

March 22, 2019

The Italian Crested Newt — Triturus carnifex — eats anything and everything it can overpower. Earthworms, mosquito larvae and water fleas are on its menu, but also snails, small fish and even its own offspring. A research team led by Dr Egon Heiss of Friedrich Schiller University in Jena (Germany) has studied the newt’s chewing behaviour and has made an astounding discovery.

Triturus carnifex is an amphibian of the order Caudata and is a true salamander. “According to the textbooks, amphibians swallow their prey whole, but we have been able to refute this,” says Heiss. Together with doctoral student Daniel Schwarz and Dr Nicolai Konow of the University of Massachusetts, Heiss has succeeded in proving that the crested newts do actually chew their prey, but in a way that is different from that of most other land-based vertebrates. The researchers have now presented their findings in the specialist publication Journal of Experimental Biology.

Palatal teeth kill prey

“This newt uses what are called its palatal teeth to kill its prey and also to break it up,” explains Heiss. This means that the jaw teeth are mainly used to catch or hold the prey. With the help of the tongue, the prey is then rubbed rhythmically against the palate. The palate is equipped with very sharp teeth, around 0.5 to one millimetre long, which are constantly replaced by new teeth. These teeth can, for example, tear open the extremely tough cuticula of fly maggots. “This kills the prey and, at the same time, helps the digestive secretions to take effect,” says Heiss. For the newt, this is also a form of life insurance: some insect larvae have such a strong bite that they would be able to bore through the predator’s body. The first impetus for the surprising research result came on a research visit to Antwerp (Belgium), when Nicolai Konow and Egon Heiss observed a newt feeding. The biologists were intrigued by the amphibian’s head, jaw and tongue movements after it had seized its prey. “The newt actually appeared to be chewing,” says Heiss. The researchers were able to obtain a clear idea of what was happening with the help of the X-ray video unit at the Institute of Zoology and Evolutionary Research of the University of Jena.

Salamanders chew like primeval land-based vertebrates

The newt’s chewing behaviour prompts the question of how it can be explained in the context of evolution. “We can assume that real palatal teeth were present in early land vertebrates, and we suspect that the ‘tongue against palate’ chewing mechanism, as seen in newts, is something that goes back to the early days of land-based vertebrates,” says Heiss. Very similar chewing mechanisms can indeed be found in ancient mammals such as the echidna and the duckbilled platypus, but also in the manatee. Although in these animals the palatal teeth have been replaced by rough keratin structures, the creatures still rub their food against the palate.

The tongue originated when vertebrates came onto land

From the point of view of evolution, the move from water to land brought about change in animals’ chewing apparatus. A key role is played by the tongue, which only developed after vertebrates left the water. It is crucial for enabling chewing, as it moves food to the right place in the mouth. “With fish, the water current helps to do this,” explains Heiss. A similar change occurs in amphibian larvae; during metamorphosis, the gills of amphibians transform into a tongue when the larvae leave the water.

The findings now presented are the first results from the research project ‘Form, Function and Evolution of Food Manipulation in Urodela’, which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and was launched at the beginning of 2017. The project runs until the end of 2019 and maybe during that time, Triturus carnifex will be persuaded to reveal more secrets.

Big cave salamander discovery in Tennnessee, USA

This June 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

On this episode of Breaking Trail, Coyote and the crew hike deep into the West Virginia hills in search of the rare and cryptic Cave Salamander!

However, locating the cave is the only the first obstacle. Once the cave is found they must go spelunking deep into the mountain braving the darkness, cold and giant spiders until the beams of their flashlights illuminate one of these beautiful amphibians…or so they hope!

From the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in the USA:

Record-breaking salamander

January 25, 2019

Researchers at UT have discovered the largest individual of any cave salamander in North America, a 9.3-inch specimen of Berry Cave salamander. The finding was published in Subterranean Biology.

“The record represents the largest individual within the genus Gyrinophilus, the largest body size of any cave-obligate salamander and the largest salamander within the Plethodontidae family in the United States,” said Nicholas Gladstone, a graduate student in UT’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, who made the discovery.

The find is making scientists reexamine growth limits of these animals in harsh environments and how hospitable underground environments really are.

Salamanders can be found in a variety of habitats across Tennessee. Some species have adapted to live in cave environments, which are thought of as extreme and inhospitable ecosystems due to the absence of light and limited resources.

Salamanders are one of only two vertebrate animal groups to have successfully colonized caves. The other is fish, said Gladstone.

The record-breaking specimen had some damage to the tail, leading researchers to believe that it was once nearly 10 inches long.

The Berry Cave Salamander can be found in only 10 sites in eastern Tennessee, and in 2003 it was placed on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Candidate Species List for federal protection.

“This research will hopefully motivate additional conservation efforts for this rare and vulnerable species,” said Gladstone.