Tetrapod Zoology

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ResearchBlogging.org

The naming of new amphibian species is a fairly routine thing. This doesn’t mean that – despite the global amphibian crisis – amphibians are actually ok and that we can stop worrying; it means that we haven’t been paying enough attention, and indeed many of the species that are being named anew are endangered, or threatened, or with tiny ranges. The current edition of Journal of Zoology includes the description of a new plethodontid salamander (aka lungless salamander): the Patch-nosed salamander Urspelerpes brucei Camp et al., 2009. The big deal about this entirely new species is that it’s from the Appalachian foothills of Georgia, USA.

Genetic data reveal that the Patch-nosed salamander is highly distinct relative to other taxa (it’s most closely related to Eurycea, the American brook salamanders), but it’s also unusual in exhibiting obvious sexual dimorphism in pigmentation: females are brownish and rather plain, while males have a pair of dark stripes running along their sides and are yellowish on the dorsal surface [see photo below, by T. Lamb]. Both sexes possess the yellow nose patch. Males are also reported to have one less vertebra than females. However, while size dimorphism is common in plethodontids, male and females of the Patch-nosed salamander are similar in size. It’s also morphologically unusual in having five (rather than four) toes. So far, very little (read: essentially nothing) is known of its behaviour and lifestyle (Camp et al. 2009).

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New plethodontid species are discovered fairly frequently, especially in South Central America: four have been named so far in 2009 (Sierra de las Minas hidden salamander Cryptotriton sierraminensis from Guatemala, Bolitoglossa cataguana from Honduras, Robinson’s web-footed salamander B. robinsoni and the Pygmy web-footed salamander B. pygmaea from the Costa Rica-Panamá border region).

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However, the USA has revealed a pretty impressive list of new plethodontids too. A plethodontid from the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California was named in 1996 (the San Gabriel slender salamander Batrachoseps gabrieli Wake, 1996), while the Hell Hollow slender salamander B. diabolicus Jockusch et al., 1998, Gregarious slender salamander B. gregarius Jockusch et al., 1998 and Kings River slender salamander B. regius Jockusch et al., 1998 were all described from the Sierra Nevada in 1998. 1998 also saw the description of the Sequioa slender salamander B. kawia Jockusch et al., 1998 from California’s Tulare County. The Wandering salamander Aneides vagrans Wake & Jackman, 1999 from California was recognised as distinct relative to the Rusty salamander A. ferreus in 1999. The Gabilan Mountains slender salamander B. gavilanensis Jockusch et al., 2001 was first reported from San Benito County in California in 2001, and the San Simeon slender salamander B. incognitus Jockusch et al., 2001 was described from the Californian Santa Lucia Mountains in the same year [California slender salamander B. attenuatus shown here, from wikipedia. Not a new species: named in 1833].

Another plethodontid collected from Tulare County, California, in 1991 (though with an initially misidentified member of the species having been reported in 1973), proved to be yet another new species (the Kern Plateau salamander Batrachoseps robustus Wake et al., 2002), and the Santa Lucia Mountains also yielded both the San Lucia Mountains slender salamander B. luciae Jockusch et al., 2001 and the Lesser slender salamander B. minor Jockusch et al., 2001. Five plethodontids belonging to Eurycea, the Barton Springs salamander E. sosorum Chippindale et al., 1993, the Jollyville Plateau salamander E. tonkawae Chippindale et al., 2000, the Salado salamander Eurycea chisholmensis Chippindale et al., 2000, the Georgetown salamander E. naufragua Chippindale et al., 2000 and the Austin blind salamander E. waterlooensis Hillis et al., 2001, have all been described from Texas since 1993. Chamberlain’s dwarf salamander Eurycea chamberlaini Harrison & Guttman, 2003 was described from South Carolina in 2003 (it was not technically new, as the populations raised to species status had previously been identified as belonging to E. quadridigitata), and was later reported from Georgia and Alabama. The Cumberland dusky salamander Desmognathus abditus Anderson & Tilley, 2003 was discovered in Tennessee and the Dwarf black-bellied salamander D. folkertsi Camp et al., 2002 was described from Georgia (and later discovered in North Carolina).

The Scottbar salamander Plethodon asupak Mead et al., 2005 is yet another recently named Californian plethodontid; both the South Mountain grey-cheeked salamander P. meridianus Highton & Peabody, 2000 and Cheoah Bald salamander P. cheoah Highton & Peabody, 2000 are from North Carolina while the Big Levels salamander B. sherando Highton, 2004 is from Virginia. And this is far from a complete list… I think you get the point.

All very well and good, but these are species: the most recently named new genus from the USA is the Red Hills salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti, named in 1961: more than four decades ago. In that it is apparently not part of any of the clades currently regarded as genera, the Patch-nosed salamander is hence quite an important taxon: it represents an entirely new, hitherto unknown lineage [Patch-nosed salamander below, photo by T. Lamb].

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Ok, the Patch-nosed salamander might be tiny (it’s less than 6 cm long), but the fact that the USA continues to yield new taxa even now indicates that one of the most advanced nations in the world still has a lot to offer. Indeed, you might use discoveries like this to argue that the fauna of the USA – even its tetrapod fauna – still has yet to be fully documented (and some have made this very argument). Then again, it might not be fair to single out the USA in this fashion. Here in Europe – where you might say we have a slight historical advantage in terms of scientific exploration – there are entirely new animals too, like the Black olm Proteus anguinus parkelj Sket & Arntzen, 1994… though this is, ostensibly, ‘just’ a new subspecies and not a genus… and it’s one of only a handful of post-1990 discoveries (compare that with the more than 20 new American plethodontids listed above).

And, yes, the Patch-nosed salamander is described as being of immediate conservation concern.

For more on plethodontids see…

Ref – -

Camp, C., Peterman, W., Milanovich, J., Lamb, T., Maerz, J., & Wake, D. (2009). A new genus and species of lungless salamander (family Plethodontidae) from the Appalachian highlands of the south-eastern United States Journal of Zoology, 279 (1), 86-94 DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2009.00593.x

Comments

  1. #1 Jerzy
    July 12, 2009

    Good candidate for the Most Unremarkable Tetrapod. ;)

    BTW – can you name more obscure things which sat overlooked in museums for decades? This frogmouth from Solomons comes to mind.

  2. #2 Kryptos18
    July 12, 2009

    I went to school in the Appalachians of North Carolina, and due to some unique geography and generally being awesome, that area is a hotbed for plethodontid diversity (perhaps the most diverse in the world). Sure was a treat getting to hang out with all those salamanders! :D

  3. #3 Sven DiMilo
    July 12, 2009

    Most Unremarkable Tetrapod

    *shakes head slowly and sadly*

  4. #4 Jim Thomerson
    July 12, 2009

    Might want to correct the first sentence of the third paragraph. You are discussing Central America, not South AMerica.

  5. #5 Bob Michaels
    July 12, 2009

    The New Jersey Pine Barrens might be a good place to look for new Salamander species

  6. #6 Sven DiMilo
    July 12, 2009

    The New Jersey Pine Barrens might be a good place to look for new Salamander species

    ? Why?

  7. #7 Nathan Myers
    July 12, 2009

    Our only uncollected bipedal primate species might be following its favored climate north into Canada, as is already the sugar maple Acer saccharum. “If your messenger find him not there, seek him i’ the other place yourself”.

  8. #8 Allen Hazen
    July 12, 2009

    For non-American readers unfamiliar with the U.S. 10 cent coin (“dime”): the top photo is enlarged roughly two diameters.

  9. #9 Jenny Islander
    July 13, 2009

    A dime is 17.91 mm wide and 1.35 mm thick, which makes the salamander just over an inch long. (Dunno about other countries, but you grow up doing these mental gymnastics if you are both USian and into science.)

  10. #10 Hai~Ren
    July 13, 2009

    I find it interesting that the plethodontids are the only salamander group to have successfully colonised the tropics*. Is there something physiologically different about them (besides the lack of lungs) that might account for this, or is this just yet another mystery of biogeography.

    Why don’t we find more salamanders and newts in the tropics, anyway?

    Are the tropical plethodontids monophyletic? I also find it intriguing that the small handful of Old World plethodontids (8 species in southern Europe, 1 in Korea) didn’t similarly colonise tropical Africa and Asia; but then again, it’s more likely that these are relict populations descended from ancestors adapted for temperate climates.

    *I think some ambystomatids and salamandrids do sort of penetrate tropical regions, but if I’m not wrong, these are highland species that prefer cooler mountainous areas; plethodontids are the only family to have colonised tropical rainforests, and are the only bunch that can be found south of the Equator.

  11. #11 chiropter
    July 13, 2009

    Oh, plethodontid salamanders…a childhood preoccupation when playing outside. I didn’t know they were lungless- I suppose their segmented appearance is about maximizing surface area then (and not some primitive highly segmented bauplan)?
    Ok, I guess you just have to look at the backbone to know that vertebrates are segmented animals, but I though I’d just throw that out there

  12. #12 chiropter
    July 13, 2009

    Although if each segment corresponds to one elongated vertebra that would tie together that thought

  13. #13 Darren Naish
    July 13, 2009

    The costal grooves, as they’re known, have been shown to help in drawing moisture up around the body, thereby keeping the skin moist and assisting the cutaneous respiration that plethodontids rely on (see previous discussion here). As for segmentation, the grooves do match roughly with the number of vertebrae, but they don’t match exactly (there is often one more vertebra than there are costal grooves), and the correlation between number of grooves and number of vertebrae is tidier in some taxa than in others. This is actually a subject that’s been much discussed in the plethodontid literature.

  14. #14 chiropter
    July 13, 2009

    Huh- so perhaps the grooves and vertebra pose an evo-devo sort of question- cool!

  15. #15 David Marjanović
    July 19, 2009

    I find it interesting that the plethodontids are the only salamander group to have successfully colonised the tropics*. Is there something physiologically different about them (besides the lack of lungs) that might account for this, or is this just yet another mystery of biogeography.

    Aren’t they the only ones with arboreal species?

    In general, salamanders are Laurasian (just like how caecilians are Gondwanan). The only exception are the noterpetontid ?sirenids from the Cretaceous of Africa and South America. AFAIK hynobiid salamanders do occur in tropical southeast Asia; there’s even a lungless species somewhere in Onychodactylus.

    (The other two lungless tetrapods are Atretochoana eiselti, a typhlonectid caecilian, and some recently discovered Indonesian Barbourula species, a fire-bellied toad.)

    The salamandrid Pleurodeles waltl occurs in Morocco; it got there sometime when the Mediterranean dried out, and it can’t cross the Sahara.

  16. #16 Hai~Ren
    July 19, 2009

    AFAIK hynobiid salamanders do occur in tropical southeast Asia; there’s even a lungless species somewhere in Onychodactylus.

    If there are tropical hynobiids, that’s certainly news to me, since none of the guides on Southeast Asian reptiles and amphibians mention anything about salamanders, let alone hynobiids. AFAIK, a handful of salamandrids are found in highland areas of Vietnam, but that’s about it. And all the info I’m finding about hynobiids indicates that most of the species are found in cool mountainous areas of temperate Asia.

    Apparently, both species of Onychodactylus are lungless, and Ranodon has reduced lungs. The lungless frog is Barbourula kalimantanensis from Borneo. Interestingly enough, lungs are present in Barbourula busuangensis, the only other member of the genus.

  17. #17 David Marjanović
    July 19, 2009

    If there are tropical hynobiids, that’s certainly news to me, since none of the guides on Southeast Asian reptiles and amphibians mention anything about salamanders, let alone hynobiids.

    Interesting.

    And all the info I’m finding about hynobiids indicates that most of the species are found in cool mountainous areas of temperate Asia.

    That’s clearly true.

    both species of Onychodactylus

    Oopsie!

    Barbourula busuangensis

    B. busuquanensis, you mean: bu-su-quan. (No idea if it’s Mandarin or Vietnamese or anything else, though.)

  18. #18 Hai~Ren
    July 19, 2009

    Interesting.

    Yep. Every guide on Southeast Asian amphibians I’ve seen only includes a bit on ichthyophid caecilians, and then it’s all frogs, frogs and more frogs.

    B. busuquanensis, you mean: bu-su-quan. (No idea if it’s Mandarin or Vietnamese or anything else, though.)

    Nope, busuangensis is correct. It’s probably named after the island of Busuanga in the Philippines, which is one of the 3 islands where this frog is known to occur.

  19. #19 Alex
    July 27, 2009

    Wow, I live in the area where the Patch-nosed salamander was found.

    I may have actually seen this species, but misidentified it a a two-lined salander.

  20. #20 Nick
    August 14, 2009

    Could anyone offer help with the species of and juvenile salamander he does look like alot of different pictures of different species but most like the patch nose . i found him one day in my toads viv!!!

  21. #21 David Marjanović
    August 15, 2009

    Turns out you’re right, and very obviously so.

    So… where does that drastic misspelling come from?!? Perhaps the textbook by Duellman & Trueb 1986?

  22. #22 David Marjanović
    August 15, 2009

    Oops, that was supposed to be a reply to comment 18.