America’s Hidden Salamanders

We need not travel to unexplored and remote regions of the world to discover “new” species, there are plenty right here in North America. This may be especially true for salamanders; a third of the world’s known salamanders can be found in North America and their diversity peaks in the southeastern United States, but we have so much left to learn. One of the world’s smallest salamanders was just described in 2009, from Georgia. And on the other hand, one of the world’s largest salamanders was just described in the final weeks of 2018, from Alabama and Florida. 

When the Executive Director, David Steen, and his colleagues published the description of the Reticulated Siren, worldwide attention followed from National Geographic to CNN and the New York Times. Letting the world know about a species has important implications for the conservation of that species (you can’t protect what has not been recognized!) but clearly this is also the kind of stuff that gets people interested and excited about science. You might think supporting this work would be a high priority of major funding agencies and organizations, but it is not. This was made very clear to Steen as he and his colleagues repeatedly tried and failed to find support for their efforts to describe the Reticulated Siren but ended up using borrowed supplies and their own gas money for trapping expeditions on nights and weekends.

What else is out there? Photo courtesy Pierson Hill.

It shouldn’t be like this. The Alongside Wildlife Foundation is going to try to fill the niche left empty by the major funding agencies by establishing the America’s Hidden Salamanders Initiative – there are many more mysteries to resolve about the salamanders of the southeastern United States and we could be losing species before we even knew they existed. The Alongside Wildlife Foundation will do whatever we can to support and conduct the work necessary to introduce them to the world before it is too late.

This work is made possible by our grassroots support network.