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2010’s Amphibian Discoveries – New Species and New Information – Part 2

Spotted SalamanderGlobal amphibian declines and extinctions spurred herpetologists to pay special attention to frogs, salamanders and caecilians in 2010.  In Part 1 of this article, I reported on the discovery of several new species, and the re-discovery of a few that had not been seen for decades.  Today we’ll look at interesting findings concerning a well-known salamander that houses algae in its cells and a rarely- seen species that lives for over 100 years.

Algae in Salamander Cells

It’s long been known that algae growing within the egg masses of Spotted Salamanders, Ambystoma maculatum, provides oxygen to the embryos and utilizes their waste products.  In 2010, however, Dalhousie University (Canada) biologists shocked the herp world by announcing that they had found living algae within Spotted Salamander cells, functioning as it does in the egg mass.  This is the closest known association between a vertebrate and a plant, mimicking in some ways the relationship between algae and coral.

This discovery may have important implications for medical research.  Since vertebrates typically destroy foreign bodies that attempt to live within cells, the salamanders must have a way to “turn off” the immune system.  Research is also focusing on their unique abilities to regenerate complex structures such as limbs and tails.

Salamander Lives for Over a Century

Found only in subterranean streams in a few caves in southern Europe, the Olm, Proteus anguinus, is one of earth’s most unusual salamanders, and has fascinated biologists and area residents for centuries.  Olms are blind, retain external gills, never see the light of day, do not mature until age 16, and reproduce by both laying eggs and bearing live young.  Despite their very unique natural environments, Olms do quite well in zoos, often living into their 70’s.

OlmsDue to the Olm’s rarity, researchers have maintained a breeding colony in a cave at St. Girons, France, since the 1952.  A search of its records revealed that individual Olms have survived for over 100 years…double the lifespan of the previous record-holders, the Japanese Giant Salamander and the African Bullfrog.  It is hoped that research into the basis of their longevity will be of benefit to those studying aging in humans.

Further Reading

Algae and Salamander Eggs, an Odd Partnership

Video of Spotted Salamanders breeding in the wild

The Olm: history of the breeding colony mentioned above and interesting local folklore



  1. avatar

    hey Frank! i’ve read about the first part. It’s really interesting. It’s in spanish, if it wouldn’t i would paste it here. Where do you get P. anguinus picture? there’re not many on the web

    • avatar

      Hello Fernando, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Nice to hear from you again; thanks for the kind words. The photo is from Wikipedia; check out the entry,. There are many good ones there, including one black phase animal. I’m putting the photo credits in the article now, missed that, thanks,

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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