08/3/15

Will the Fungus Killing Salamanders Come to the US?

There is nothing more important right now to the survival of Salamanders than the United States stopping the importation of them from Europe and Asia.

From the New York Times article, “Importing Both Salamanders and Their Potential Destruction.”

“You would think there would be something in place,” said Vance T. Vredenburg, a biologist at San Francisco State University. “We really need a government agency at some level to take action and do something.”

…The pet trade brings huge numbers of salamanders into the United States. Fish and Wildlife Service records show that about 780,000 salamanders were imported from 2010 to 2014. Dr. Vredenburg and his colleagues found that 98 percent of the imported animals were native to Asia.

We have been watching Chytrid Fungus, or Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd for short) wipe out many species of frogs. Humans have helped spread this disease around the world and now we have an opportunity, if we act quickly to help the salamanders.

We’re worried about the Asian fungus that causes the disease “Bsal” which has already reached Europe, wiping out 96 percent of fire salamanders in the Netherlands. Now, researchers have determined that the fungus will spread like wildfire if it reaches North America, and they’re calling for an immediate ban on all salamander imports.

Fire Salamander from Wikipedia Commons

Fire Salamander from Wikipedia Commons.

Below are a series of articles on this topic from the past week:

NPR >> Scientists Urge Ban On Salamander Imports To U.S. To Keep Fungus At Bay

 

UC Berkeley >> Scientists urge ban on salamander imports to fend off new fungus

 

The Verge >> North America’s salamanders threatened by bloody skin disease

 

Tech Times >> Bsal Fungus Can Wipe Out U.S. Salamander Population: What To Know

04/27/15

Ilah Rose Hickman, Idaho Giant Salamander Advocate

Below is a written interview with Ilah Rose Hickman, who fought for the Idaho State Amphibian, the Idaho Giant Salamander. I was also fortunate to interview Ilah on my Suzy Brandtastic podcast series. Since writing this interview the bill passed and Idaho now has a State Amphibian!

Listen here: Ilah Rose Hickman eco-interview podcast

Please tell us a bit about your mission and goals…

Ilah Rose HickmanI started my legislative journey in 4th grade when we learned about Idaho history in social studies. In the unit on Idaho state symbols, our teacher gave us an assignment to create a new symbol and then write a mock letter to our legislator and ask them to support the proposed symbol. When I went home that day I told my Mom I wanted to propose a new symbol for real, and not just for a mock assignment. So that’s how it all began!

What is your educational background and what lead to this mission?

I am now in 8th grade at Les Bois Junior High in Boise Idaho. Ever since that fourth grade assignment, I have been determined to have a new state symbol designated in Idaho. In fourth grade I learned that many other states had a state amphibian or reptile designated, but Idaho did not. So I decided to research amphibians and reptiles, and also found out who my representatives were in the legislature and wrote to them. My district Senator met with me in the summer before 5th grade and recommended I pick one symbol, so after my research I decided to choose the Idaho Giant Salamander as a state amphibian. In 6th grade I had a committee hearing in the House but the bill did not go any further than that. In 7th grade the bill started in the Senate, and it passed all the way through the full Senate but then the House committee ran out of time and I did not get a hearing there.

Now this year the bill was given a committee hearing in January, and they voted against sending it to the full House for a vote. But then last week the committee Chairman called us and said they had “revived” the Bill and yesterday it went to full House for a vote and passed 51-17. Now I am hoping it gets to the Senate before the legislature adjourns this session.

Of the 15 amphibians native to Idaho, I chose the Idaho Giant Salamander because it has “Idaho” in its name, it resides almost exclusively in Idaho (and just a sliver of adjacent Montana) and the marbled brown pattern on the adult’s skin looks like a topographical map of the Idaho Bitterroot mountains. Other native amphibians like frogs and toads are already designated as amphibians in other states, and many of them live in widespread areas beyond Idaho.

What are some challenges you have faced and how did you deal with them?

Ilah Rose Hickman before legislatureI have had to learn patience! I have had to wait a whole year multiple times because once the bill “dies” or is “killed” by a committee, you are done for that year and have to wait for the next session. Also, many legislators have said no to my bill. But every time they have said no it has pushed me forward by encouraging me to come back the following year and be better prepared to persuade them better to get an “aye” vote. Last summer I went to a “salamander” camp with a local biology professor and his students to capture, tag, collect data, and release Idaho Giant Salamanders in a stream near the Lochsa River. This really helped me in my testimony to the committee this year. And after the House committee voted against sending it to the full House for a vote this session, I sent letters to a lot of 4th grade teachers in the districts of those legislators who voted no, and told the about the bill, their legislator’s “no” vote, and reasons they could support the bill and asked them to write their legislators. I think that kind of statewide support from other students and educators helped a bill like mine.

What can people do to help? Donate and contribute to your cause? Other ideas?

Throughout this 5 year process, I have had many students, teachers, and other residents write letters to the representatives of their districts in support of this bill. Even young students in first or second grade have drawn pictures of salamanders and sent them to their legislators. If someone lives in Idaho they can write their legislator and ask them to support the Bill. I also have a Facebook page set up to keep people (in and out of Idaho) up to date on what’s happening with the Bill.

How do you reach your targeted audience? Is it through your website, advertising or social media or another route? Which is most effective and why?

I use my Facebook page to communicate with supporters, and over the years I have emailed lots of teachers and asked them to support the bill by having their students write to their legislators. At my own school I have had a ballot box in the library, and my Earth Science class wrote letters of support. I visited a 4th grade class here in Boise and told them about my experience, and I’ve been interviewed on a few radio stations here in Idaho to talk about my bill.

How do you keep the audience engaged over time?

Idaho Giant SalamanderEach year I have learned more about the legislative process, the politics involved, and I keep learning more and more about the salamander as well. Scientists and other amphibian fans contact me with research, stories and other data that has helped me strengthen my arguments for this bill, and I try to communicate all of this to the supporters of the bill by Facebook, and in my testimony, and other interviews.

Tell us about your events around the world and some of the campaigns you have started.
What is in the works for the future? What haven’t you yet tackled, but will want to do soon?

This week I am working hard to get the Bill to the Senate floor before they adjourn for the year. I am 50 percent done and am hoping to get it passed this year!!! If the Bill does not get through the Senate, I will be back next year. I also hope to get to go back to “salamander camp” in the summer with the biology professor because that was so educational and a lot of fun!

Would you like to add anything not discussed above?

I have been passionate about this project because once I begin something, I like to see it through to the end. And so I want to keep going with this until the Bill passes. I also really love all animals
and learning about them. And once I learned about the Idaho Giant Salamander, I just thought it was such a cool animal because “amphibian” means double life, and this one is so special and unique to Idaho. Salamanders in general are valuable in areas like medical research (because they regenerate lost limbs),
climate control (because they contribute to the forest carbon cycle), and are different than any other animal state symbol we already have.

Learn more:
On Facebook: Idaho Giant Salamander for State Amphibian
YouTube link to a video about the Idaho Giant Salamander:


(This is what I showed to the House committee. One of the professors at salamander camp made it for me.)

-Ilah Rose Hickman

04/1/15

Blotched Tiger Salamanders in Oregon

This report comes from Frances in Southern Oregon.

Tiger Salamander in Southern Oregon

My two year old pond seems to have attracted these salamanders. I am in Southern Oregon, near Klamath Falls, and on the California border. I have been told they are Tiger Salamanders, but they do not have any bright coloring.

They are mottled and striped, and the largest one I have seen in my leaf trap was about 14″ long. The pond is about two and a half feet deep, so I can’t see how many there are, and if there are any of my goldfish left. Some of the fish were about 6 – 8 inches long when I last spotted them in late summer.

The salamander in the photo was on my driveway in early February of this year. I am pretty sure they are eating all the frogs we had. I am not hearing any croaking, and the two that frequented the rim of my hot tub are not around now. I am not sure if there is anything that can be done to balance things a bit, or if some of them are becoming permanent pond dwellers and not losing their gills, as I understand happens sometimes. Do you have any suggestions or ideas? Thank you. If these are some kind of hybrid, I don’t know how good they are for the environment.

*******

I sent this query along to a few experts and here are their responses:

Matt Ellerbeck – The Salamander Man says:

Your email/inquiry about salamanders was forwarded to me from Susan Newman at Frogs Are Green.

The salamander in the photo you sent is indeed a Tiger Salamander. They are variable in color, so if you Google searched them, it is possible that you came across images that didn’t resemble this individual salamander. Tiger Salamanders are native to Oregon so pose no environmental threat. On the contrary, salamanders are indicators of a healthy environment!

You also mentioned some concern for your frogs. Tiger Salamanders may occasionally take frogs, however, they primarily feed on insects and invertebrates. In fact, Tiger Salamander tadpoles (or larvae) prey on mosquito larvae and therefore help keep the number of these pests down! As such, I wouldn’t consider them a real threat to the frogs.

Due to the benefits they provide I hope you will accept the presence of these salamanders. If you want to learn about things you can to do help them (as they are both amphibians such efforts will also benefit frogs too) please visit the following: Save The Salamanders – How You Can Help

*******

I asked Matt why the frogs may have disappeared?

He replied:

Frances mentioned she didn’t hear the frogs croaking – perhaps the frogs are indeed still around but merely not singing at this time. I believe most frogs sing seasonally, or only at certain times. I have a backyard pond with frogs, and sometimes I may not see them for days on end, and suddenly they will reappear.

I have also read that cats will kill frogs, so they, or other predators (birds, snakes), may have taken them.

These are all plausible causes, however, I can’t say for certain. The reality is, any backyard pond (whether natural or human-man) that has animals in it will also attract various predators.

*******

Keith Gisser, Herpetologist and founder of Herps Alive! says:

Blotched Tiger Salamander. Pretty dull-colored animal normally compared to other (sub)species.

While pretty voracious eaters, rare (in my experience) for them to eat frogs or fish (although they will eat fish when in larval form) – they prefer invertebrates.

*******

Sara Viernum, Founder of The Wandering Herpetologist says:

Agreed! It’s a Blotched Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma mavortuim melanostictum). There is a small, known population (native) in southern Oregon near the border. Like all tiger salamander species these will eat anything that fits in their mouths including invertebrates, lizards, mice, snakes, frogs, tadpoles, small fish, and other salamanders. Since they are a native predator in your area they may initially cause a decrease in the local frog population but once they become established in your pond their numbers will most likely balance out with the frogs.

This site has some good info about the western tiger salamander group. California Herps – Salamanders

11/18/14

Attracting Newts to Your Pond

Encouraging newts to your garden pond will add life and color that can be seen for much of the year. You should never remove them from the wild but there are a few steps you can take to invite them to take up residence in your pond.

Newts not only add life to the pond, they also eat algae. So they provide a natural solution to a common problem. As they are most active during the warmer months of the year, when algae is rifer, they can be a real help. Of course other natural remedies such as Barley Straw will help too.

The best way to invite newts into your garden is to create the ideal habitat. A natural pond without fish is the best environment, as they will eat newt eggs and spawn.

baby newt

Build a loose rockery around or near the pond. This will provide them with shelter to live and breed. The cool, damp, atmosphere is ideal for newts, and will encourage slugs and insects, a good food source. If you want to feed the newts, then you can add bloodworm, daphnia or brine shrimp to the water, a good retailer will have a wide range of pond foods.

Adding plants such as water mint or water forget-me-nots are small but have wide leaves which are perfect for newts to lay and hide their eggs in. Reed plants are also great to promote natural behaviors. The eggs have a jelly like texture, which newts wrap up in leaves to protect them.

Newts are most active from March/April, and you should see babies appear from June to August. From then on, you will notice that they start to disappear, as they mostly hibernate throughout the winter, until around February. During this time, try not to rearrange the rockery or do too much work around the area, as this will disturb the newts.

Children will no doubt be very interested in the new addition to your pond, and it’s a great way to promote a love of nature. However always supervise your children around these slippery creatures, and ensure that if they do pick a newt up, that they do so very gently and with wet hands. Don’t allow the newts to be taken away from the area, or held for more than a few minutes.

You may find that not only newts arrive, but that frogs and toads appear too. As they thrive in similar environments. They can live well together and create a beautifully natural area of wildlife in your garden.

Newt in garden

Don’t worry if newts don’t start to arrive, despite the lovely home you have created. It may take time for them to appear and breed. If your local environment has changed, such as new roads, building sites etc., this may affect the migration of newts too. Leaving the pond and its inhabitants to its own devices will encourage the most natural behaviors and results.

06/18/13

SALAMANDERS IN CRISIS! An Overview of Why Salamander Conservation is Needed

Guest blog by Matt Ellerbeck, founder of Save the Salamanders

Although they are rarely given much thought, and often overlooked when they are, salamanders are in a terrible crisis. Around half of all the world’s salamander species are listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These species are all facing a high risk of extinction. A further 62 species have been designated as near-threatened with populations rapidly dwindling. This means they are quickly getting closer to threatened status and to the brink of extinction. Sadly for some salamanders it is already too late, as both the Yunnan Lake Newt (Cynops wolterstorffi) and Ainsworth’s Salamander (Plethodon ainsworthi) have already gone extinct.

save the salamanders Salamanders have been on the earth for over 160 million years, and the terrible state that they now find themselves in is due to the detrimental acts of humans. Even those species that are not experiencing population declines deserve attention and conservation to ensure that they remain healthy and stable.

One of the biggest issues affecting salamanders is the loss of their natural habitat. Many areas that were once suitable for salamanders to live in have now been destroyed for developmental construction and agriculture. Habitats of all kinds are being lost at an alarming rate. Wetlands are drained, forests are logged and cut down, and waterfronts are developed. Salamanders are literally losing their homes and they are losing them rapidly. The expansion of urban areas threatens the suitable habitats that still remain.

Where natural habitats do still exist, they are often fragmented or degraded. Fragmentation occurs when healthy areas of habitat are isolated from one another. These fragmented areas are known as habitat islands. Salamander populations are affected since gene flow between the populations is prevented. This increases the occurrence of inbreeding, which results in a decrease in genetic variability and the birthing of weaker individuals.

Fragmented populations where inbreeding occurs often ends in a genetic bottleneck. This is an evolutionary event where a significant percentage of the population or species is killed or otherwise prevented from reproducing. Habitat fragmentation is also harmful because it often eliminates crucial requirements in the area which are critical to the survival of salamander populations. Such areas include spaces that can be utilized for thermoregulation, prey capture, breeding, and over-wintering. Without such habitat requirements populations dwindle.

Breeding sites, often in the forms of vernal pools are particularly important. The loss of such areas in the form of habitat destruction can negatively affect the entire population and its reproductive output. According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), there is some evidence that certain salamander species have individuals that return to the pond in which they were born once they reach maturity. Therefore, destruction of a breeding pond may result in loss of the entire population returning to that site. Habitat complexity is also important as it offers shelter to salamanders from both predators and human persecution.

Degradation occurs when the natural habitat has been altered and degraded to such a degree that it is unlikely that any remaining salamanders species would be able to survive. Developments and agriculture near fragmented habitats put salamanders at serious risk. As amphibians, salamanders have extremely absorbent skins. Industrial contaminants, the introduction of sedimentation into waterways, sewage run off, pesticides, oils, and other chemicals and toxic substances from developmental construction sites and human settlements can all be absorbed by salamanders. This can quickly lead to deaths. They can also cause widespread horrific deformities to occur. A study conducted at Purdue University found that out of 2,000 adult and juvenile salamanders 8 percent had visible deformities.

save the salamanders

According to Save The Frogs, Atrazine (perhaps the most commonly used herbicide on the planet, with some 33 million kg being used annually in the US alone) can reduce survivorship in salamanders. Many products are sold with the claim that they are eco-friendly. However, these should be viewed with caution. For example, according to N.C Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Roundup and many other surfactant-loaded glyphosate formulations are not labeled for aquatic use. When these formulations are applied to upland sites according to label instructions, the risk to surfactant-sensitive species is considered low. While this may be the case for fish it does not necessarily apply to amphibians. Salamanders that breed in water also routinely use non-aquatic areas and could easily be exposed to glyphosate formulations that contain harmful surfactants through direct application and not just incidental drift.

Habitat destruction and degradation can also effect the availability of prey items, causing unnatural declines in appropriate food sources.

Habitats are often isolated and cut off from one another by the roads and highways that now run through them. Countless numbers of salamanders are killed on roads and highways every year when they are hit by vehicles. Salamanders that are migrating to breeding and egg-laying sites often must cross over roads to reach such areas. Here many of the mature members of the breeding population are killed. Removing members of the breeding populations greatly limits reproductive output, this makes it incredibly hard for salamander numbers to rebound.

Roads present an additional problem because they represent a form of habitat loss. The roads that run through natural areas also fragment the existing populations, drastically making them smaller in size. This limits the gene flow and genetic diversity between the isolated populations on either side and this greatly increases the chances of extirpation. When salamanders attempt to cross roads to travel between the populations, or to critical breeding/birthing sites it greatly increases their chances of being hit and killed by vehicles.

save the salamanders

The Wetlands Ecology and Management (2005) population projections for spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) life tables imply that an annual risk of road mortality for adults of greater then 10% can lead to local population extirpation. Unfortunately, it is estimated that mortality rates can often be as high as 50 to 100%, which means populations are at extreme risk of extirpation and extinction due to road mortality. Wyman (1991) reported average mortality rates of 50.3 to 100% for hundreds of salamanders attempting to cross a paved rural road in New York State, USA. Given that this figure pertains to a rural area from over a decade ago, it is fair to assume that even higher mortality rates occur as their has been in increase in cars and roads over the years. Reducing road mortality is paramount to preserving salamander species.

Being hit and killed by vehicles is not the only threat that roads create for salamanders. Chemical run-off from vehicles contaminate roadside ditches and pools. These sites are often utilized by salamanders for breeding and birthing. According to Steven P. Brady (2012) survival in roadside pools averaged just 56%, as compared to 87% in woodland pools. Thus, an average of 36% fewer individual embryos survived to hatching in roadside versus woodland pools.

Salamanders are also threatened when they are harvested from the wild. Salamanders are taken for the pet trade, for food markets, and for use as fishing bait.

There is much about salamanders that scientists do not know. Aspects of the biology, ecology, and lifestyles of many species is a mystery. This undoubtedly means human interference is negatively affecting salamanders in ways in which we don’t even know. The intricate relation between all species and the vital roles they play within eco-systems is also being altered. Such alterations can have serious consequences to not just salamanders, but many other animals as well (including humans).

To find out how you can help please see: www.savethesalamanders.com

Matt Ellerbeck - Save the Salamanders

About Matt Ellerbeck and Save the Salamanders:

Over the years he has observed hundreds of salamanders in their natural habitats. This interest eventually led to Matt becoming a Salamander Advocate and Conservationist.

Matt also has considerable experience and expertise in regards to salamanders and their care. He has cared for and observed numerous species. These include forms belonging to the genera Plethodon, Ambystoma, Necturus, Notophthalmus, Hypselotriton, Pleurodeles, Taricha, Salamandra, Hemidactylium, Eurycea, Pseudotriton, Amphiuma, Siren, and Paramesotriton. Matt is also in possession of a license to keep Specially Protected Amphibians in Captivity for the purpose of education, which has been granted by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Along with wildlife preservation, Matt also believes in the ideals of Environmentalism, Deep Ecology, Biocentrism, Ecocentrism, and anti-Speciesism; and draws from these various movements to help salamanders.

Matt is committed to continuing his efforts to help salamanders. His love and concern for these animals is second to none! 

02/11/13

Eco-Interview: Matt Ellerbeck, Save the Salamanders

In this post, we are pleased to feature Matt Ellerbeck, a salamander advocate and conservationist, who created the Save the Salamanders project.

Matt Ellerbeck, aka The Salamander Man, is a man with a mission: he is striving to raise awareness of the threats that salamanders face, and to educate people on effective actions that they can take to help alleviate these threats. The actions include behavioral changes, land stewardship, and habitat management efforts. To bring his message of salamander conservation and protection to the public, Matt utilizes several platforms: media appearances, awareness campaigns, social networking, the distribution of informative fact sheets, and educational presentations/lectures.

Matt also aims to help salamanders by diligently collecting observational records of these animals in the wild. These records are sent to various organizations to help gain a better understanding of salamander populations, ranges, and habitats.

He hopes that through awareness and education, people will develop a sense of empathy and concern for salamanders, and in turn will have a desire to become active in their recovery. For those who do want to contribute to the conservation & protection of salamanders, his site contains much information on how to become active.

As Matt describes his mission:

Everything that I do, I do because I sincerely believe it will help contribute to the conservation & betterment of salamanders, which is my ultimate goal and ambition! Salamanders are the focal point of my life. There is not a day that goes by that I am not doing something salamander related, whether it’s presenting educational lectures on salamander conservation, writing articles, giving interviews, or collecting observations of salamanders in the wild. When I am not doing such activities I am planning and prepping for such efforts. A good portion of every day also goes towards the care of the many salamanders that I live with.  These salamanders take turns accompanying me during my lectures and presentations to act as education animals and ambassadors for their kind.

Below is a video interview with Matt in which he discusses his mission: