More New Salamander Info

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 26th, 2008

Two new pinky-sized salamander species and one the size of a fingernail have been discovered crawling around in a remote Costa Rican forest.

The new species, found by botanist Alex Munro of the Natural History Museum, London, and colleagues while on expedition, are among 5,300 plants, insects and amphibians recorded during three explorations of La Amistad National Park on the Costa Rica–Panama border.

La Amistad is the biggest forest reserve in Central America, yet it remains one of the least explored places in the continent. These new discoveries, announced today, increase the number of salamander species in Costa Rica from 40 to 43, making it a center of diversity for these amphibians.

“Finding so many new species in one area is exciting, particularly as this is probably the only place in the world you can find these animals,” said Monro, leader of a project to explore La Amistad and record its biodiversity. “It shows we still have a lot to learn about the variety of wildlife in this region. We have four more expeditions planned this year — who knows what we could find when we go back?”

Salamanders are amphibians, not lizards, with slender bodies and short legs, the latter of which they can regenerate if lost. They keep their skin moist, by living near water or swamps.

Two of the new salamanders are from the Bolitoglossa genus and are nocturnal, coming out at night to feed. The first Bolitoglossa species is 3 inches (8 centimeters) long and black, with a bold red stripe down its back and small yellow markings on its side.

The second Bolitoglossa species is 2.3 inches (6 centimeters) long and deep brown with a pale cream underside.

The third salamander is from the Nototriton (dwarf salamander) genus and is a mere 1 inch (3 centimeters) in length, with red-brown coloring and black markings on its side.

The specimens will be studied and named later by scientists at the University of Costa Rica, where they will form part of the national collections.

Find out more here.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

23 Responses to “More New Salamander Info”

  1. Saint Vitus responds:

    There are probably many salamander species awaiting discovery. They are the most secretive of the amphibians, are usually small, and there are many closely related species that are almost identical.

  2. Ranatemporaria responds:

    The good old amphibians eh?! they can almost be relied upon to throw up new species at fairy regular intervals!?

    Unfortunatly their often specilized life stratergies and fairly restricted tollerance levels has ment they have been dissapearing at a much faster rate than they are descovered!

    I am suprised that more caecilians have’nt raised their sperpant like heads in recent times.

  3. Bob Michaels responds:

    You can say that salamanders are a keystone species in determing the health of the ecosystem. we need the species to survive. They must be protected.

  4. mystery_man responds:

    Saint Vitus- it is interesting that you mention that most salamanders are small because while this is generally true, the two largest amphibians in the world happen to be salamanders. The Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus) can weigh around 55 pounds and grow to lengths of 5 feet, while the even larger Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus) gets even bigger, reaching up to 6 feet in length. I am fairly sure there are even bigger specimens out there to be found.

    Yes indeed these are important animals and fascinating as well. Salamanders are part of the order Caudata (which include salamanders, newts, mudpuppies, waterdogs, sirens, and amphiuma), and if you look at this group of animals as a whole, you will see an amazing variety of shapes, sizes, life-cycles, habitats and behaviors. Some are fully aquatic, some are terrestrial, some are even arboreal, like the arboreal salamander (Aneides lugubris). In this order you will see animals that have gills and breathe water, some that breath air, and others that are “lungless”, meaning that they breathe through their skin and membranes in their mouths and throats. There is an amazing amount of diversity within this order.


  5. Ranatemporaria responds:


    The diversity expressed in Caudata doeas not show a massive amount of comparative Variance. All have a pretty similar essential bauplan or body structure and most posses all of the respitary functions you metion (appart from the ability to ‘breath water’ as far as I am aware that would be a real cryptid.

    One of the amphibian features i find most facsinating is the plasticity with in these animals morphology, espesially in the developemental/larval stage. Many will grow to different shapes and sises in response to preditors and other environmental cues.

    Do i rember right (Loren perhaps you can help) but Charles Fort had quite an interest in amphibians, specifically Anurians, and not just those that fell from the sky! I belive he studied experiments in which frogs and similar were encased in clay and plaster and buried for months and years at a time after, enrapped with seemingly no Oxygen. Here they lay untill they were eventually craked open. Supprisingly several survived unscathed!

  6. mystery_man responds:

    Ranatemporaria- I’m not sure how you can say there is not a lot of variance within this order. Yes, many of them have the same sort of basic shape, but that is not to say there is not a large amount of variance to be found. You have some that are tiny, some that are 6 feet long. Some of them have no gills and have a terrestrial lifestyle, other are completely aquatic throughout life. Some are quite drably colored, others are poisonous and display bright colors. Morphology can be quite different between species. There is a large amount of variety to be found here.

    They do not all possess the same respiratory systems. Some have lungs, some do not, some have gills, some have both. There is good variety to be found. I’m not sure how you can say that one that breathes water would be a cryptid since there are species within the order that do this very thing. Species such as the Axolotl, live their life in a state called neoteny (meaning they do not ever mature, but remain in a larval state). They are completely aquatic and maintain their gills throughout life. Although they possess rudimentary lungs, they breathe water.

  7. mystery_man responds:

    I also forgot to mention that some within the order even have different numbers of limbs. Sirens, for example, completely lack hind limbs. They are also completely aquatic. To say that there is not a lot of diversity within this order is false.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    Sorry, I’m a big amphibian nut, so I should mention some more things. Don’t forget the variance in reproductive habits and life-cycles within this order. While most of the order reproduce through internal fertilization, the “basal”, or primitive, salamanders exhibit external fertilization. Then you have the fact that there are members of the order that have a completely aquatic life-cycle, others that have a semi-aquatic lifestyle (living mostly on land but returning to water at certain time, like for breeding), and yet others that are terrestrial (among these the arboreal ones I mentioned.) While some species display a combination of respiratory systems, some of these terrestrial salamanders lose their gills and develop lungs, others in the order are “lungless” like I said before. Some of the aquatic ones express neoteny, retain full gills, and “breathe water”.

    In the end, while a majority of salamanders do show some common traits and appearances, the fact is there are a lot of instances of good diversity within the order Caudata and I disagree that they show little variance.

  9. mystery_man responds:

    Anyone reading this, please do not think that a “terrestrial salamander” means it spends its whole life cycle on land. Of course they are amphibians, so they start their lives in the water, but these salamanders spend their adult lives on land (albeit in moist places and often near water). The semi-aquatic ones spend a lot of time on both land and in water, and the fully aquatic ones live their whole lives in water, some of them expressing the neoteny I mentioned and essentially never “growing up”. This is just a disclaimer in case someone tries to take me to task about “terrestrial salamanders”.

  10. mystery_man responds:

    Just an example of the diversity represented within the order Caudata. Take the little, pink colored Axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum), a salamander exhibiting neoteny with full gills and breathing water or a siren, also with neoteny and with no hind legs (they also comprise a few species that vocalize, which is rare for salamanders). Now compare with, say, a terrestrial tiger salamander or the massive Japanese giant salamander. I think the diversity is pretty apparent.

    Of course there are some similarities between species, hence they are in the same order Caudata. But within this general framework I see plenty of variation and variety. Habits, coloration (many are camouflaged while others are brightly colored and poisonous), size, reproductive habits, adaptations, and so on, all show a good amount of diversity. Remember I am talking about this whole order of animals, not just salamanders.

  11. Ranatemporaria responds:

    Mystery Man –

    Firstly I think you miss understand. No Animal I am aware of can ‘breath’ water. Breath by definition is the taking in of air. I accept they can derive there supply of respiratory oxygen from the water but this is via gill osmosis not breathing water. The lungs could not cope with gaseous exchange in a liquid.

    Secondly axolotls do have an adult reproduction form, as an air breathing salamander, often they do not reach this state naturally due to a lack of thyroxin. I my self have had my own Axolotl’s loose there gills and take on adult form. In nature this occurs as a response to reduced water levels or dietary change.

    Third, note I said comparative morphological variance. This means in my opinion the body plan of amphibians is fundamentally similar certainly at a skeletal level. Even anurans have vestigial tails. At larval stage the variance is less still. Caudata is a whole order of animals. Compared to say the single species of domestic dog, the morphological variance within the order is not vast.
    Granted there life history strategies are wide ranging as are colours and sizes, however this was not I was referring to.

    One thing is for sure they are interesting!

  12. mystery_man responds:

    Ranatemporia- I see what you meant. If you put it that way, then what I meant was deriving oxygen from water and in layman’s terms put it into “breathe water”, for if they are deriving oxygen from the water, and I felt it is the best way to get that concept across. It is like saying breathe water is what fish do, which by your definition, they do not. We are nitpicking over semantics here. Sorry, it was the high school science teacher in me (what I primarily do) speaking out. You obviously know enough about amphibians that I do not have to use terms like that. Sorry if it seemed that I was over simplifying things or talking down for your benefit.

    Well, I do love these conversations with people who know what they are talking about, and I am happy to hear that you had axolotls! I have kept them too, but it must be kept in mind that the adult state is not a form they typically take in nature, although admittedly it does happen for the reasons you specified. I’m pleased that you brought that up, actually. I’ve seen it happen myself, but I was trying to make a point, that there is some good variety within the order and I thought the axolotls were a good example. When you have fully aquatic members of the order and others that live in trees, I just tend to see that as remarkable and a testament to their diversity.

    I guess it really comes down to opinion, doesn’t it? Where you seem to see little morphological variance, I see a lot. I suppose since I have actually worked in the field with Japanese giant salamanders (and as another guy who knows his amphibians, I’m sure you would get a kick out of seeing them up close! If you haven’t already!), and study the species of amphibians of Japan (primarily their role in the ecosystem and effects of invasive species on them), I tend to really appreciate the different forms and colors they can take. You are right that compared to the dog, the variance isn’t there, but then again the dog shows a pretty remarkable amount of diversity within one species in the first place. I was talking about the spectrum of a whole order of animals and speaking within that context, and it seems you actually agree with me somewhat there. I was expressing my appreciation for the diversity within an order of animals on its own merit, without comparing it to others.

    Perhaps we were misunderstanding each other. I certainly didn’t mean to argue about this, but rather express my appreciation for the differences that the order Caudata can show rather than highlight the genetic and morphological similarities between species (of which there are, of course). I thought you were trying to say they were incredibly similar and I felt I had to convey the variances that are indeed there. You could argue all you want that they have little variance, but in my experience I just don’t see it that way and looking at the examples of species to be found, I don’t see how anyone could (then again, that is coming from an amphibian geek, so don’t mind me! 🙂 ).

    I am really enjoying talking about this with you and appreciate that you are able to discuss this topic in a knowledgeable way. You are obviously someone who has an appreciation of amphibians as well, so I hope you at least see where I am coming from.

  13. mystery_man responds:

    Of course I don’t mean to detract from canids, though. They comprise one spectacularly diverse groups of animals. The body types present and adaptations they display are incredibly varied, but their basic, fundamental body structure is somewhat similar. Anyway, I don’t mean to compare Caudata with Canidea, they are both amazing groups of animals! Like I said, my original intention wasn’t to compare groups of animals. I look at them on their own merits. My original intention was rather to take a moment to reflect on differences that ARE present in Caudata as opposed to ones that AREN’T, and I see pretty good diversity there (while not the most of the entire animal kingdom, to be sure.). I was speaking within the context of a whole order of unique animals without meaning to make this into a “which is more diverse” contest.

  14. mystery_man responds:

    Ranatemporia- By the way, anurans do not have tails during adulthood. Indeed their name means “tail less” and it is one of their defining features. I’m not quite sure what you mean about vestigial tails on members of the order Anura, unless you are referring to “froglets”, or the intermediate form between tadpole and adult. The only exceptions to this within the order Anura are the genus Asaphus and the genus Leiopelma, which retain vestigial tail wagging muscles. Frogs and toads also do not have a “larval form”, but rather a tadpole form. Other forms of amphibians have a larval form, though. Also, the body plan for all amphibians is not always fundamentally similar and you will find a great deal of difference in morphology between the three orders of amphibians. Indeed there are a wide range of body structures unique to different types of amphibians, such as the fused tibia and fibula as well as the fused radius and ulna in frogs.

  15. mystery_man responds:

    Ranatemporia- Incidentally, the order Anura do not have tails in their mature form. Indeed the word Anura means “tail-less” and it is one of the order’s defining features. The only exceptions I am aware of are the genus Ascaphus and the genus Leiopelma, which retain vestigial tail wagging muscles. Some frogs also have an elongated “cloaca”, which is a genital organ used for mating, and this sort of resembles a “tail”. I don’t know where you came up with vestigial tails for frogs, since the tail is completely absorbed by adulthood. Do you mean the vestigial tail found on “froglets”, which are an intermediate form between tadpole and adulthood? Also, frogs do not have a “larval form” like the salamanders and caecilians do, but rather have tadpoles. Maybe I am nitpicking there, but there is a distinction to be seen in the immature life stages of the Anurans when compared to the other amphibians.

    Anyway, even if they DID have tails (which they don’t display any more than humans do with our tail bones), how is that evidence of a lack of diversity, considering the presence of tails in most mammals? The three orders of amphibian (Anura, Caudata, and the caecilians) show a lot of unique attributes with regards to skeletal structure and morphology that I think should be recognized. Anurans, for example, display several unique skeletal attributes not found in other amphibians.

  16. mystery_man responds:

    Sorry for the last few posts. I thought they hadn’t gone up, so I wrote them and posted them again and somewhat repeated myself on many things. I didn’t realize. Whoops! 🙂

  17. Ranatemporaria responds:

    Mystery Man

    I agree perhaps we are nit picking about the detail but still I thought i would straighten out a few of my points for you!

    The ‘Tadpole’ form is as a pre metamorphic juvenile state referred to as larvae as per most published research papers on the subject e.g. (Relyea 2000, 2001,2002). Please could you tell me the difference between the juvenile form or ‘immature life stages’ of frogs and those of newts and salamanders? Those that have formed part of studies up till now have all taken the following developmental route.
    Egg -> Larvae/Tadpole -> Metamorphosis -> Adult,
    life history strategy. I would be intrigued to know of any that don’t and may need to re-write my thesis!

    The tail on anurans is not externally obvious but as I wrote previous is skeletal and can be seen internally via x-ray or in dissection but non the less there. By vestigial I draw parallels with that evolutionary receded form of tail seen in humans (of which you refer) and the like.

    Again as for a ‘lack of diversity’ again can I refer to my original and subsequent posts. This was a relative measure comparable to other similar taxonomic levels i.e. Cetartiodactyla which ranges from the blue whale to goats!

    I think its awesome you got to work with giant Salamanders, what was the purpose of the research? I thinks its important to collect all the information we can whilst amphibians are still so plentiful.

    Some interesting papers on the subject:

    Vences et al 2005
    Laurila et al 2002
    Relyea 2000, 2001,2002

  18. mystery_man responds:

    Ranatemporia- I suppose it is just a way to label two types of juvenile larval form. The “tadpole” is a type of amphibian larval stage, but when I say it is different to the “larval stage”, that is to differentiate the unique characteristics that Anuran tadpoles have in comparison to, say, the larvae of Caudates which I’ll use as an example. Let me try and explain what I see as the main differences between the two, and hopefully illustrate what I meant by “tadpole” versus “larvae”.

    First, let me tell you what I see are the unique attributes of “tadpoles” that differentiate them from the “larvae” of the Caudates. First of all, tadpoles have internal gills. Second, tadpoles always fully undergo metamorphosis, absorbing the tail as the frog develops into maturity. Third, tadpoles are highly specialized compared to the larval stage of Caudates and are geared toward eating a very large amount of food. Tadpoles also mature relatively quickly and thoroughly.

    What I call Caudate “larvae”, are different from tadpoles in several respects. First is the presence of external, feathery gills rather than internal ones. These gills are more often than not lost upon maturity except under certain circumstances such as species which display extreme neoteny. Amphiuma are the only Caudates that display internal gills. Second, Caudate larvae retain their tails into adulthood. Third, these larvae can sometimes take extremely long times to fully reach maturity in comparison to tadpoles. The larval forms of hellbenders, for example, can take up to five years to reach full metamorphosis. Others, like the tiger salamander, only metamorphose if the ponds they live in become uninhabitable and they have to switch to a terrestrial form to survive.

    This leads into the biggest difference that I see, and that is the potential for Caudates to express neoteny, or paedomorphosis, to varying degrees, essentially maintaining certain larval characteristics into reproductive adulthood. In this case, metamorphosis is stalled, not fully realized, or frozen completely. In fact, nine of the ten families of Caudata express some form of neoteny except the family Rhyacotritonidae. Four of the Caudate families are comprised fully of species that undergo paedomorphosis and retain larval characteristics well into sexual maturity. An example is the axolotles we mentioned, retaining most of their larval characteristics, yet developing reproductive organs. These species can reproduce as adults, yet retain many features of a larval form. They can turn to an adult form under very special circumstances (usually in captivity or in a laboratory), but for the most part, the metamorphosis is never completed. Tadpoles, on the other hand, always fully metamorphose.

    Anyway, I guess in the end using the words “larvae” and “tadpole” are just ways to label and differentiate the same sort of intermediate form in two orders of amphibian and to highlight the things that make them unique. There are differences, but you are right and the amphibian life cycle is fundamentally always the same although there is a good amount of variety to be seen in types of fertilization, where they lay their eggs, development and characteristics of the larval forms, and so on. While most amphibians are biphasic, (meaning they go from an aquatic stage to a terrestrial stage), some amphibians lay their eggs on land, and the larval form is completed within the egg. Since the eggs are amniotic (full of their own pool of fluid) rather than the amamniotic eggs of most other amphibians (meaning the eggs rely on external water from the surroundings.), they can be laid on land without threat of desiccation. In essence, they have a completely terrestrial life cycle. Other amphibians give live birth to larvae that have developed within the mother’s body, others mouth brood, but the pattern of egg to larval form to metamorphosis to adult is essentially the same. It’s just as the life cycles of mammals shows a lot of variety, yet remains fundamentally the same. If that is what you meant, then I don’t think you have to re-write your thesis. 🙂

    The research I did on the Japanese giant salamander was pertaining to investigating the effects on its habitat and possible threat posed by the introduced Chinese giant salamander (Andrias davidianus), as well as other invasive species within its ecosystem. I am thoroughly enjoying this exchange with you, Ranatemporaria, and appreciate that you are taking the time to engage me in intelligent discussion on amphibians.

  19. mystery_man responds:

    Just a note. What I mean by “internal gills” in tadpoles is that the gills are concealed with a covering of skin, called an operculum, and are not typically readily visible. While the tadpoles of some species of frog show external gills at first, these are covered as they get larger, while this does not happen with the larvae of Caudates. While some small feathery tufts may be slightly exposed in some species of frog, they are quite different from the completely exposed external gills shown by the larvae of salamanders. Tadpoles gills are concealed, or internal if you will, while those of larvae are not.

    One more difference that I forget to mention when discussing the difference of tadpoles versus the larvae form of Caudata. Tadpoles are completely geared toward being aquatic creatures, where that is not always the case with salamander larvae. For example, there are viviparous species which deliver their young as fully morphed, miniature adults. In these cases, the larvae complete metamorphosis within the mother’s oviduct, able to exchange gases, waste, and nutrients from the mother’s blood. Only one or two offspring out of clutches of 20-30 eggs will fully reach maturity in these instances. The rest of the eggs become nourishment for when the larvae egg sacks are depleted. The larvae of some species even cannibalize each other within the mother’s body. In the case of internally developed offspring, I would not refer to these as “tadpoles”, but rather as “larvae”, since tadpoles are actively swimming, feeding eating machines.

    I guess one way you could put it is that tadpoles are larvae, but not all larvae are tadpoles. Do you see what I’m saying? Anyway, as I said, the fundamental amphibian life cycle remains the same in either case, only being somewhat complicated by those species that remain in larval form indefinitely yet possess reproductive capabilities. Even then, they could possibly fully metamorphose under certain conditions. “Tadpoles” and “larvae” represent the same basic developmental stage, and “tadpoles” would just refer to the aspects inherit in Anuran larvae exhibiting the characteristics that I have mentioned. Like I said before, I think I’m probably nit-picking a little on the distinction.

    By the way, what sort of thesis topic are you writing on if you don’t mind me asking? I’d be interested to hear about it from a fellow amphibian enthusiast.


  20. mystery_man responds:

    Another interesting piece of trivia I just remembered is that salamander larvae develop their front limbs before their hind ones, whereas in frog tadpoles the hind legs are first to develop. It may be a seemingly minor thing, but pretty interesting to me nevertheless.

  21. Ranatemporaria responds:

    Mystery Man-

    That does clear up issues, I’m sure we would have cleared up issues with nomenclature and terminology much quicker in a face to face conversation!

    I’m still sure many anuran larvae do have external gills including (Rana temporaria!) though as you say not as pronounced as those of salamanders and yes these are retracted early in development.

    My thesis will be looking into phenotypic plasticity during larval development in British amphibians. With specific interest in the effects of predatory chemical cues and conspecific and interspecific chemical communication.
    It’s mainly looking into how exposure to threats produce different body shape and how this varies between species and if the effects can be communicated.

    It’s good to discuss these things as often all I know is down to what I read, it’s always of interest and importance to get another’s information or point of view, there is always allot more to be learned.

  22. mystery_man responds:

    Ranatemporia- That sounds awesome. Good luck with that thesis. My specialty is not actually amphibians per-say (even though I love them), but rather the effects that invasive species can have on the ecology of endemic animals in Japan, and these species (both native and introduced) happen to include a great many species of amphibian including the Japanese giant salamander I mentioned. As a result of my research (when I get time away from teaching to do it!), I have had to become familiar with a large range of different types of animals and their specific interactions with the ecology, including amphibians. My own thesis back in the day (seems so long ago now!) was on this topic and I have been fortunate to live in Japan right up close to the animals I love so much.

    I would think a face to face conversation would have been clearer too, and I am sure I could probably learn some things from you as you seem to really know your stuff about amphibians. Sorry if I seem to be nit-picking a little on these things, but being a topic I love, I tend to get carried away! I certainly would like to know more about the British amphibians you mentioned. I agree that we have to learn as much as possible about amphibians, whether they be frogs, salamanders, or caecilians, before they are gone from the face of the Earth. Considering their remarkable sensitivity to environmental changes such as pollution and climate change, there may not be any left to study within the coming generations. That’s why I get so excited when new species like these salamanders pop up, because it gives me hope that perhaps they are not all on the brink just yet.

    Hopefully, we will keep finding new species of amphibians like this in order to at least offer some optimism in the face of the even faster growing list of threatened or extinct ones.

  23. mystery_man responds:

    The effects of invasive species in general is a major point of interest for me, as well as the ecology of island environments, which are often fragile and quite susceptible to damage by introduced species. This could apply to the British Isles too, so I wonder if some of the threats to British amphibians you are studying that induce changes in body shape may include introduced threats from foreign species? The damage done by invasive species, be it directly or indirectly, is just one more thing to add to the pollution, climate change, and habitat loss that are taking their toll on amphibians worldwide. Sigh.

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