Lost Frogs Update: Rediscovering a Salamander in a Mexican Cave

Cave splayfoot salamander (Chiropterotriton mosaueri).

Cave splayfoot salamander (Chiropterotriton mosaueri).

This week, CI announced the rediscovery of three amphibian species not seen for decades. Below, herpetologist Sean Rovito describes his experience finding a Mexican salamander species not seen in 69 years.

I began by talking to the people of Durango, Hidalgo, near the only known locality of the cave splayfoot salamander (Chiropterotriton mosaueri). I knew that no one had seen the salamander since its discovery in 1941, and that the location of the cave it had come from was not known precisely, so my expectations were quite low. After asking several people in town, some of them told me about a cave they had discovered some decades ago, which now serves as a source of water for their community. They told me that they had entered it many times and never seen salamanders, but agreed to show it to me anyway.

We went just before sundown. The cave was on a steep slope covered with pine and oak trees, with lots of limestone and agave plants all around. No sooner had I entered than I saw a large adult salamander with a very long tail atop a rock on the cave floor. Although I had not seen many species of Chiropterotriton, it looked different from any other I had seen, and I instantly knew that it must be C. mosaueri. It moved very rapidly and attempted to escape before I was able to catch it. It was exhilarating to be the first one to see a species that had been seen only once, and so long ago.

After excitedly telling my companions from the town, I reentered the cave and found another species, the bigfoot splayfoot salamander (Chiropterotriton magnipes), crawling upside down on the cave ceiling. This species was only known from a handful of sites, all rather far away from where I was, and was certainly one of the most unusual amphibians I had ever seen, with its giant feet and nearly translucent skin. After exploring some distance into the cave, I went on to find another C. mosaueri and three more C. magnipes, all crawling on the cave walls or ceiling.

I felt tremendously lucky not only to have found these magnificent salamanders, but also to know that both of these species persist in the wild after so many years. The people from the town were also excited to know that the salamander still existed on their land, and invited me to stay for a delicious dinner while we talked about salamanders and other animals and plants they had seen their town. It was one of the most exciting days I have had in five years of working with tropical salamanders.

Sean Rovito is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Instituto de Biología, UNAM in México. This is the latest report from field researchers participating in CI’s Search for the Lost Frogs campaign. Read our previous blog posts here.


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