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News Briefs

Toads Catch Unusual Lift - Friday, Jan 04, 2019

Several Cane Toads remind us that necessity is the mother of invention as they found a novel way to get out of an area being flooded by an overflowing dam. They hitched a Lyft, wait make that lift on the back of a local python named Monty. It is Australia after all, pythons just wander the streets there I hear!

"I went out and the lake had overflowed," he says, and realised the toads, who nested around its edge, were fleeing the rising waters.

"Thousands of toads were all trying to find somewhere to go," he says. "And then I saw Monty our local python with a bunch of hitchhikers on his back."

A variety of theories abound from it being staged to male toads with a little romantic confusion, but we just think it is a cool story! Check out the full story and video here!

Photo courtesy of Paul and Andrew Mock, originally shared at
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Featured Contributors

Ringed Salamanders
Richard Bartlett - Monday, Jan 21, 2019

This is a typically marked adult ringed salamander
Jake and I were recently back in southwestern Arkansas on, as might be expected, a herping foray. Ever since Jake had learned of this salamanders existence, he had told me time and again, he had been enamored of the beauty of the ringed salamander, Ambystoma annulatum, and although we had been in the region where they were found on previous trips, neither weather conditions nor season, had been conducive for these aptly named mole salamanders to have emerged from their burrows. So we had previously whiled away our time searching for and photographing some of the other Ozarkian caudatans.

But today, a cool autumn day, was different. It was raining and the rain was forecast to extend well into the coming hours of darkness. We had a few locales to check out before dark. All in all things were looking good. Necessary tedium first--motel, a bite to eat-- then into the mountains.

After bumping for several miles along a woodland dirt road we found ourselves in a land of rocks. This was definitely ringed salamander habitat—but there was a problem. Rock after rock, for as far as we could see, had been freshly turned out of its cradle and just left lying atop the leaves. We could only guess that this was the work of uncaring market hunters. For the first hour Jake and I rolled rocks back into their original positions. By then darkness was approaching and we discontinued the reconstruction efforts with hundreds of rocks still out of place. We did want to get a few minutes of salamander hunting in.

We walked a bit further to a small ephemeral pond and found after considerable searching Jake’s lifer ringed salamander and dozens (probably hundreds) of freshly laid eggs.

The rain continued making photographing difficult but not impossible and we were soon on the way back to the motel.

Once back to the paved road, the rain now barely a sprinkle, we were lucky enough to see another 4 ringed salamanders. Our trip was a resounding success.

Continue reading "Ringed Salamanders"

Grotto Salamander
Richard Bartlett - Monday, Jan 14, 2019

External gills, functional eyes, tailfin--the larval grotto salamander has all three.

Currently there are 191 named species of salamanders in the USA. This large amphibian grouping is contained in 8 families of which the largest by far is the Plethodontidae with 147 species plus well over a dozen subspecies. With the use of genetics it is probable that an additional 25+ species will soon be added to this family.

The plethodontids vary in size from 2” long dwarfs to what are considered in this family comparative giants of 9”. Among these are species that are entirely aquatic throughout their lives (paedomorphic taxa), others which are just as entirely terrestrial, and many that are in between these two extremes. Most seek seclusion beneath logs and rocks in damp woodlands, some prefer a similar microhabitat along stream edges, and others live beneath rocks and leaf litter submerged in streams, creeks, or rivulets. Terrestrial taxa have well developed, fully functional eyes, some aquatic forms have reduced vision, and some aquatics are blind. And then there’s the grotto salamander, Eurycea (formerly Typhlotriton) spelaea, a most remarkable little beast that may be encountered in the cave systems of Southeastern Kansas , Northeastern Oklahoma, Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas.

Troglodytic when adult and in its later stages as a larva, after hatching the larvae often follow connecting underground streams from the darkness of caves to the daylight outside. At that point they are pigmented, being a weakly patterned olive brown to tan. They then have functional eyes, 3 pairs of external gills, and a well-developed tailfin. During the daylight hours they, like many aquatic salamanders, hide beneath rocks and stream bottom debris. On cloudy days and at night they are more inclined to depart their lairs, swimming and foraging in the open.

After a larval duration of several years the 3 or 4 inch long larvae follow their home streams back into the darkness and undergo a metamorphosis that is typical in some respects but atypical in others. Simplified, typically the gills and tailfin lessen in size and function until they are fully resorbed and the larvae become capable of existing terrestrially. Atypically the pigment of the now subterranean salamander is gradually lost and rather than becoming lidded and terrestrially functional as do the eyes of other plethodontids, the eyes of the grotto salamander degenerate and the lids fuse, producing at adulthood a pinkish, sightless, terrestrial, troglodyte.

Welcome to the wonderfully complex world of Mother Nature.
Continue reading "Grotto Salamander"
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