A new paper in Current Herpetology by Nishikawa et al. describes a very bizarre salamander, just described and given the name of Tylotriton ziegleri. (It’s a “newt”, actually, which is simply an aquatic salamander in the family Salamandridae. Not all salamanders are newts. Newts in this group are known as “crocodile newts” for obvious reasons.)
Described from 18 males and 1 female collected in North Vietnam, T. ziegleri was recognized as a distinct species both on molecular (mitochondrial DNA) and morphological differences from other species in the group. The intriguing thing about it is its appearance: totally bizarre, far more like a reptile than an amphibian.
Not only that, but it’s all black except for the tips of its toes and a thin stripe on the underside of its tail, which are orange:
Damn, that’s a cool beast!
At first I thought the orange toes and tail stripe might be due to sexual selection by females. In that case only the males should show the trait, but no sexual dimorphism is mentioned in the paper. If the coloration is due to direct selection, then, it’s probably for other reasons. The salamander might, for instance, be “aposematic”: having warning coloration because it’s toxic. The authors don’t speculate on this possibility, but many aposematic animals are black and orange (bees and wasps, for instance).
Here’s a closeup of its head:
There’s a news item about this species on Mongabay.com, which describes it as threatened:
Ziegler’s crocodile newt is currently only known from only a small habitat of montane forest and wetlands.
“Currently, habitat loss and degradation, especially around the breeding ponds, is a major threat to the populations of the new species,” the researchers write in the paper. “Legal protection of their habitats and regulation of excessive commercial collection are important measures for conservation of this species.”
Crocodile newts are popular in the illegal pet trade and are often over-collected from the wild. There are now ten known species, eight of which have been evaluated by the IUCN Red List. Of these eight, three are threatened with extinction, four are listed as Near Threatened, and only one is Least Concern.
Nishikawa, K., M. Matsui, and T. T. Nguyen. 2013. A New Species of Tylototriton from Northern Vietnam (Amphibia: Urodela: Salamandridae). Current Herpetology 32(1): 34–49, February 2013.