Taylor's Salamander
(Ambystoma taylori)
Taylor’s salamander exhibits some highly unusual and distinct features, indicative of its evolutionary distinctiveness. For example, it appears to be specialised for life in saline (or salty) water, as the salinity of Laguna Alchichica which it inhabits is near to the maximum tolerated by most adult amphibians, and is well above that tolerable to eggs and embryos. This salamander will basically eat anything, within reason, that fits into its mouth. It typically hides below the water line under overhangs in the crater's edge of Laguna Alchichica and is found in very deep water, often more than 30m below the surface. It is eriously threatened by water extraction and diversion from Laguna Alchichica.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Sensitive management and restoration of Laguna Alchichica to control the amount of water extracted and maintain current salinity levels.
Eastern-central Mexico
Taylor’s salamander was first described in 1982 and was named after Edward Harrison Taylor. However, the species had been known to science long before then. Taylor himself attempted to describe the species under the scientific name Ambystoma subsalsum in 1943, but mistakenly used a Mexican tiger salamander (Ambystoma velasci) as the original specimen. This error rendered the new species temporarily invalid until it was redescribed from a correct specimen in 1982.

The family Ambystomatidae is also referred to as the mole salamanders because many live in burrows for much for their lives. They are found only in North America (from Canada down to Mexico), the majority (unlike Taylor’s salamander) metamorphose from aquatic larvae to become terrestrial adults that are rarely seen except in the breeding season, when they migrate to ponds to mate and deposit eggs.
Associated Blog Posts
31st Jul 15
Four hours and 250km later, in Puebla State, we arrive at Laguna Alchichica, Alfredo’s field site. Set in a landscape that has turned from forest to se...  Read

29th Jul 15
  I am standing on a narrow isthmus of land, essentially a dirt track running on top of a levee. On my right is a fragment of the once vast Lerma...  Read

22nd Jul 15
Welcome to Life on the EDGE, our monthly blog featuring news about our projects, fellows, species, and all other things EDGE.  This is our first update ...  Read

24th Jun 15
 A few weeks ago we started the field work for the Taylor’s Salamander Project in Alchichica. Chris Michaels from ZSL visited the project and came with ...  Read

25th Mar 15
There are lots of beautiful and enigmatic places around the world, and most of them are subject of myths and legends. Can you imagine a piece of th...  Read

22nd Aug 11
Taylor’s salamander (Ambystoma taylori)like many other amphibians defies limits. This salamander has specialised for life in salty water. It can only be fo...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Caudata
Family: Ambystomatidae
The family Ambystomatidae or “the mole salamanders” is included within the four earliest or most primitive family lineages of the order “Caudata” (the salamanders), diverging from all other salamanders in the Early Cretaceous period over 140 million years ago, around five million years before the koala and dolphin lineages diverged from their common ancestor. The small number of species that represent the genus Ambystoma are highly evolutionarily distinct members of both the salamanders and the amphibians as a whole.

Taylor’s salamander exhibits some highly unusual and distinct features, indicative of its evolutionary distinctiveness, including its rare “neotenous” life history, whereby the species never develops into an adult but instead retains its juvenile characteristics throughout life, essentially achieving reproductive maturity whilst still in its undeveloped larval form. There are a couple of theories for why neoteny (also referred to as paedomorphosis) develops in some mole salamanders. One idea is that the production or effectiveness of the hormone thyroxine is compromised, either by the species living in water bodies containing insufficient iodine (which is required in the manufacture of thyroxine by the body) or in water temperatures that are too cold for the thyroxine to be effective. This impacts on the development of the species and sexually mature adults never develop adult characteristics but remain in the larval form. A second theory suggests that species evolving in pools surrounded by hostile terrestrial environments develop aquatic lives to obviate the need to exit the relative safety of their watery home. This is a common trait in species that inhabit high-elevation ponds.

Taylor’s salamander may be specialised for life in saline (or salty) water, as the salinity of the Laguna Alchichica is near to the maximum tolerated by most adult amphibians, and is well above that tolerable to eggs and embryos. In captivity, Taylor’s salamander survived longer in water salinities similar to Laguna Alchichica – it therefore seems as though this species is somewhat dependent upon a high salt concentration in the water which it inhabits.
An Ambystomatid or mole salamander found only in the Laguna Alchichica in eastern Puebla, Mexico at an elevation of 2,290m above sea level. Mole salamanders are medium to large, stocky amphibians, measuring between 90 to 350mm from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail, which salamanders retain throughout their life. Males are often larger than females, partly due to their longer tails. Ambystomatids generally exhibit both aquatic “neotenic” larval (or aquatic and permanently juvenile in form with external, feathery gills) and terrestrial “metamorphosed” (or ground-dwelling, fully developed adult in form with reduced gills) stages in their wild populations. Ambystomatids are often boldly patterned as adults, with well-developed costal grooves (successive vertical grooves along the sides of the body), especially the metamorphosing varieties. They have a rather flattened body with a wide, flattened head, a large mouth and smooth skin with many glands. The tail is roundish or laterally compressed, and, during the breeding season, males have a very swollen cloacal zone (the region around the reproductory and excretory opening in amphibians located underneath the base of the tail).

Like all neotenic Ambystoma species, Taylor's salamander retains its larval features into adulthood. Taylor's salamander is moderately sized, with a typical length of 150-200mm. Being a neotenic species, it retains its caudal (or tail) fin and external gills into adulthood, never undergoing a complete metamorphosis. Taylor's salamanders are yellowish in colouration, with dark spots along their backs and the upper surface of their tails. They have relatively short, thick external gill stalks. Their heads are quite large, and their limbs underdeveloped, as is the case in most neotenic Ambystoma or “neotenes”.
Taylor’s salamander is entirely aquatic, breeding and laying its eggs in the same lake where it was born. The species does not metamorphose (or develop adult features) which induces it to live permanently in water in its larval physical form, becoming sexually mature in this state. This would be akin to a tadpole being able to breed without ever turning into a frog. Taylor’s salamander feeds by buccal suction, which means they draw in food from the surrounding water by suddenly opening their mouths and allowing nearby prey items to flow inside. This species will basically eat anything, within reason, that fits into its mouth, including all aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates. It typically hides below the water line under overhangs in the crater's edge of Laguna Alchichica and is usually found in very deep water, often more than 30m below the surface.

Once the eggs are laid in water they are left to develop with no further participation by either parent. This species does not exhibit parental care.
Found entirely within Lake Alchichica (or Laguna Alchichica), a high-altitude saline crater lake 24 miles southwest of Perote, in eastern Puebla, eastern-central Mexico, at an elevation of 2,290m above sea level. Laguna Alchichica is extremely salty, with a salinity reading of 2000-5000 and a very alkaline pH. of 8.5-10. The lake's water has a temperature range of 18-21°C and Taylor’s salamander is typically found below the water’s surface beneath overhangs in the crater’s edge in regions of the lake that reach depths of 30m or deeper.
Endemic to the Laguna Alchichica, which means it is only found in this location. The Laguna Alchichica is a high-altitude saline crater lake 24 miles southwest of Perote, in eastern Puebla, eastern-central Mexico, at 2,290m above sea level.
Population Estimate
A population estimate is currently unavailable, although it is known to be a rare species, having formerly been quite common. It has been seen recently (as of 2004) by divers deep in Laguna Alchichica.
Population Trend
No population data is currently available for Taylor’s salamander, although the population trend is assumed to be in decline in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species based on notable declines in its occurrence in Laguna Alchichica.
Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because its extent of occurrence is less than 100km sq. and its area of occupancy is less than 10km sq., all individuals are in a single subpopulation, and there is continuing decline in the number of mature individuals and in the extent and quality of its habitat in Laguna Alchichica.
The most serious threat to Taylor’s salamander is water extraction and diversion from Laguna Alchichica, leading to the lake becoming even more saline. The water level has dropped many metres over the last two decades. Continued transformation and pollution of the lake will result in the disappearance of this species. Attempts to introduce fish into Laguna Alchichica (which may have had negative repercussions for Taylor’s salamander) have failed because the lake is too saline.
Conservation Underway
Taylor’s salamander does not occur in any protected areas, so the conservation and restoration of its remaining habitat is an urgent priority in order to prevent its extinction in the wild. However, this species is protected under the category Pr (Special Protection) by the Government of Mexico.
Conservation Proposed
The protection of Leguna Alchichica is an urgent priority in order to prevent Taylor’s salamander from becoming extinct in the wild. In addition to conserving wild habitat for this species, the IUCN Technical Guidelines for the Management of Ex situ Populations, part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, recommend that all Critically Endangered species should have an ex situ population managed to guard against the extinction of the species. An ex situ population is ideally a breeding colony of a species maintained outside its natural habitat, giving rise to individuals from that species that are sheltered from problems associated with their situation in the wild. This can be located within the species’ range or in a foreign country that has the facilities to support a captive breeding programme for the species. It is not known whether it is possible to breed this species in captivity so further investigation is required into the possibilities of establishing an ex situ breeding programme for Taylor’s salamander.

However, any ex situ conservation measure is rendered ineffective if there remains insufficient natural habitat in which to release captive bred populations in the future. Clearly protected areas, sensitive management of the lake to control the amount of water extracted and the lake’s rising salinity and habitat restoration are of paramount importance to rescuing this Critically Endangered mole salamander from extinction in the wild.
Associated EDGE Community members

I\'m a biologist, my main interests are the evolution and conservation of amphibians and reptiles.

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