CONSERVATIONVirginia Zoo conducts local research project on salamanders

October 27, 2016

Amphibians are the most endangered group of vertebrates, with nearly a third of all species threatened with extinction globally. Worldwide, their population decrease is largely because of infectious diseases like emerging Chytrid fungal pathogens.

Southeastern states are considered a salamander hotspot, and Virginia has one of the highest diversity of salamander species in the world. It’s important to take advantage of this and understand the health status of these amphibians.

The Virginia Zoo’s Veterinarian Dr. Amanda Guthrie was awarded the Wildlife Conservation Grant from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo to study this threatening Chytrid Fungi in the salamanders of Southeastern Virginia. Earlier this month a team from the Virginia Zoo including Assistant Director Roger Sweeney, Dr. Guthrie, Zoo Keepers Mike Dray, Yohn Sutton plus volunteers from the Virginia Herpetological Society spent a weekend studying the species. The group visited Sandy Bottom Nature Park in Hampton, and Grafton Ponds Natural Area Reserve in Newport News to sample salamanders.

“Amphibians are really in trouble,” said Dr. Guthrie. “This type of work is very important to understand the threats they face in the wild, whether it be disease, habitat loss, climate change or other factors,” Guthrie added.

In two days, 61 individual salamanders were swabbed for samples, which will then be tested to detect fungal organisms. Results are still pending, but should be in soon.

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Mabee’s salamander (Ambystoma mabeii), this species is listed as state threatened and is considered to be of very high conservation need in the state of Virginia.

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Morphometric data, such as snout-to-vent length (SVL) and body weight were collected for each salamander. The red backed salamanders weighed approximately 1.5 grams each. The marbleds weighed around 10-15 grams.

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A new pair of gloves was worn for handling each salamander. This is important to prevent disease transmission between animals.

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Three-lined salamander (Eurycea guttolineata)

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Marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum)