Amphiumas, mudpuppies and sirens, oh my!

Sirens (Siren sp.) retain larval gills throughout their life and also lack hind limbs.

Sirens (Siren sp.) retain larval gills throughout their life and also lack hind limbs.

Among the ever-growing list of those amphibian species found to be infected with chytrid are a few fully aquatic species of salamanders. In the southeastern U.S. there are several species of aquatic paedomorphic salamanders that retain larval characteristics, such as gills, throughout their life. This is also known as neoteny. Although hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleghaniensis) are fully aquatic, they are not paedomorphic since they undergo metamorphosis. Axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum), common in captivity but virtually extinct in the wild, are a pretty well-known example of neoteny or paedomorphosis. As in the popular song, though, a few rare aberrant axolotls can actually metamorphose into a salamander (this is not because they drank “salamander goo” but more likely due to a genetic mutation).

Two-toed amphiumas (Amphiuma means) may serve as reservoirs for Bd in aquatic environments.

Two-toed amphiumas (Amphiuma means) may serve as reservoirs for Bd in aquatic environments. Photo by J.D. Willson.

Several species of  southeastern paedomorphic salamanders in the U.S. were swabbed for chytrid fungus  in a 2012 study. The authors found a relatively high rate of infection, with an overall prevalence of 0.34 (so about 34 out of 100 individuals swabbed were found to be infected with Bd on average). Among the different kinds of salamander that they swabbed, amphiuma (Amphiuma sp.; eel-like salamanders with tiny legs) and sirens (Siren sp.) seemed to have the highest average Bd prevalence values relative to dwarf sirens (Pseudobranchus) and mudpuppies (Necturus sp.; large paedomorphic salamanders similar to axolotls). No declines in these aquatic species were recorded and the authors suggested that amphiumas, sirens and mudpuppies could serve as reservoirs of Bd since they are in water bodies where chytrid may be present all the time.

Frog: 11, Fungus: 17

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