Sometimes you go to a Florida swamp to study turtles and find a two-foot-long salamander not previously described by science.
That happened to biologist David Steen in 2009 when he pulled one of his turtle traps out of the marshy waters around the Elgin Air Force Base. There were no turtles in the trap, but he found a huge, eel-like salamander that rested comfortably in it.
"It was just a way to sit on the bottom of the trap and wait patiently," says Steen.
Steen was much more excited than the animal in front of him. He knew he was looking at an amphibian few people had seen before.
Steen says he first heard rumors in early 2007 about a massive, undiscovered salamander-type during his graduation work at Alabama University in Auburn. "My adviser Craig Guyer showed me the Museum of Natural History and knocked his knuckles on this large sample vessel," says Steen. The content was referred to as another large salamander species, the larger siren ( Siren lacertina ), but Guyer said it did not look right. "He said it's probably a new breed just waiting for someone to describe it."
Others, as it turned out, had suspected the presence of an unknown species. Locals have long talked about a mysterious creature they called "Leopard Eel" and the book of Robert Mount from 1
Steen and another student, Sean Graham, immediately dreamed of solving the puzzle. "We have planned – how can we find one of these things?"
Easier said than done. They knew roughly where to look from the museum samples and other reports, but it was still more than two years before Steen found the only living salamander in 2009. Several unsuccessful attempts followed, until in 2014 they finally found three more copies. Study of the four animals took a few years, all work was done at their own time and without an official research budget.
The hard work paid off, however. An article by Steen, Graham, and other researchers published today in the journal PLOS ONE describes the new style and describes it as a network siren ( S. Reticulata ). According to the newspaper, the all-salamander lives in northwest Florida and southern Alabama and has a slimy, eel-like body with irregular spots on the skin, two front legs, no hind legs and a row of gills directly behind the head. It is about as long as North America's largest salamander, the Hellbender ( Cryptobranchus alleganiensis ), but the structure is much smaller.
an unusual animal – and one of the largest vertebrates described in recent decades in the United States or Canada.
"After years of talking about this creature, it was unreal – it was a kind of mystical, mythical animal." Steen says. "It's so different from most other creatures we share the planet with."
Why did it take so long to discover a two-meter-long salamander? "I think it's a combination of things," says Steen, now a research ecologist at the George Sea Turtle Center and managing director of The Alongside Wildlife Foundation. "For one, this creature is completely aquatic. It lives in swamps and mud. These are not really places where people spend a lot of time. It is also superficially similar to another species, the larger siren. So if you did not know what you were looking for, you could probably assume that it was something that we already knew.
The newspaper wants to change that. Although Steen admits there is much to learn about the new siren, he said it was time to make the world aware of its existence. "We could wait another 10, 20, 30 years to find out all the details about the species, but we found it important to document it. Perhaps this will create incentives to conduct formal studies and surveys. As you know, you can not afford formal protection for a species that people do not even know or know about. "19659002] Possible future protection could be important. The newspaper does not discuss the potential conservation status of the network siren, but a news release about the discovery says it is "at least vulnerable to population decline." This is because their living space in the southeastern US is increasingly under pressure from a growing population. Development, agriculture, logging, climate change and other threats.
At the same time, the new siren represents the astonishingly diverse biodiversity of the Southeast, says amphibian biologist Karen Lips of the University of Maryland, College Park, which was not affiliated with the study. "Every time I talk about salamanders, I set up a global map of salamander's biodiversity, which turns red in the southeastern US This is the zero point for the diversity of salamanders."
Many of these species are endangered or endangered, according to Lips The discovery of the networked siren is a "small ray of light". Although she expects the species to be endangered due to relatively few encounters in the last decade, she is glad that she has now been described and named. "In the amphibian community we have all the blank copies on the shelves for which we can no longer find the population. Although this species is rare and endangered, it exists. That's good news. "
And believe it or not, it could not be alone. Genetic tests carried out on the paper indicate that other undescribed giant siren salamander species might be in the southeast, waiting to be discovered. "We really need a formal overhaul of this entire family of salamanders so we can find their biology and their conservation status and bring it into the 21st century," says Steen.
Steen announces the last message about the siren: There are still many species still to be discovered and, like their well-known partners, they are increasingly exposed to threats. The time to save these species shortens with each passing year.
"We just do not know what we're losing because we did not do the formal work to find out what species are still there," he says.
However, for at least one species, this first step has finally been taken.
You can not save a species if it has no name