Save the Salamanders

By Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance

Salamanders are not one of those animals that get headline grabbing attention. They’re small, slimy, and rarely seen unless you go looking for them. Yet salamanders play a very important role in our forests. They eat anything smaller than they are: insects, grubs, worms, etc. while also serving as an important food source for other animals like birds, fish, reptiles, and small mammals. Salamanders also keep our forests healthy by preventing the grubs and insects from eating all the fallen leaves. Leaves store carbon, but when they break down they release that carbon into the air, contributing to greenhouse gases. By eating the insects, the salamanders are helping keep the leaf layer in forests intact. Leaves also protect the soil and provide habitat for small animals (like salamanders).

About 50% of the salamander species in the world are found in North America. That’s huge!

So what’s the big deal about salamanders right now?

There’s a fungus from Asia that has been found in European salamanders that proves to be deadly to most species. Because Asian salamanders are pretty to look at and brightly colored they are often imported into other countries as pets. That’s how they suspect it got to Europe.

So what this means for us in the U.S. is that we need to be on the lookout at pet stores. Make sure that if you want to purchase a slimy friend of your own that you’re dealing with someone reputable that is not importing their animals (there are actually import bans on several species of salamanders right now because of this disease). Like any other non-native disease, it’s easier to prevent it from getting here in the first place than it is to deal with it afterward. We need to protect our salamanders, just imagine what our forests might look like without them.

Below is a good video that explains why this fungal disease (called Bsal) is so deadly to our North American salamanders and why salamanders are so important.

And if you want to find out more, there is a great interview with an Associate Professor of Biology from the University of Maryland in this article from the Society of Conservation Biology.

salamander video

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