A salamander in Gamboa!

The Gamboa worm salamander (Oedipina complex) is an elongate salamander that is seldom seen in Panama.

The Gamboa worm salamander (Oedipina complex) is an elongate salamander that is seldom seen in Panama. Photo by Myra Hughey.

Salamanders in Panama are not like salamanders in the United States. In the eastern U.S., you can find salamanders in pretty much any stream you explore, as long as it is not too heavily polluted. In Central America, most salamanders are rare and are either found in the trees or under the leaf litter. The salamander that we found, Oedipina complex, is one of the species living under the leaf litter. This one was crawling alongside a concrete drainage ditch at night when one of the other interns in my lab spotted it. She mistook it for a baby snake at first, because it is so long and thin with such small legs. Most Oedipina salamanders have these long bodies with reduced limbs – perhaps they are on the evolutionary path toward becoming legless burrowing amphibians, like caecilians.

A close up on the Oedipina salamander. You can see the nasal cirri projecting from its snout that help it to pick up smells.

A close up on the Oedipina salamander. You can see the nasal cirri projecting from its snout that help it to pick up scents from the environment. Photo by Myra Hughey

All of the salamanders in Panama fall under family Plethodontidae, the lungless salamanders. These little amphibians breathe entirely through their skin, meaning that they would be in trouble if they were susceptible to the amphibian chytrid fungus.  However, next to nothing is known about Bd infection in tropical salamanders, both in the lab and in the field. This is probably because salamanders can be so difficult to find in the tropics. I feel very lucky for having been able to see one here in the lowlands.

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