Luschan’s salamander is part of an ancient lineage that diverged from their closest relatives around 200 million years ago, an incredible 135 million years before the extinction of the dinosaurs! It is unusual among the amphibians in that it bears live young, with two fully developed offspring being born after 5 to 8 months. The courtship is also bizarre, with males inserting a warty projection at the base of their tail into the female’s cloaca (reproductive opening) prior to the transfer of an external sperm packet. Restricted to a range the size of Manhattan Island, it is chiefly threatened by its small area of occurrence, making it vulnerable to ecological disasters and climate change.
Luschan’s salamander is most active during the cooler winter months, which constitute the mating season. These salamanders are nocturnal (night-active), and seem to be more frequently encountered during and after rainfall and at dropping atmospheric pressure.
Reproduction in this species is not dependent upon a water body. During mating, a wart-like protuberance on the base of the male’s tail (called the “dorsal tail tubercle”) is rubbed against the female’s cloaca (urino-genital reproductive opening) during a “ventral amplexus “, where the male clasps the female from the front so that their bellies are touching. The precise function of this behaviour and of the dorsal tail tubercle is not known. However, shortly after the tubercle is inserted into the female’s cloaca, the male deposits a sperm packet or “spermatophore” which is picked up by the female’s cloaca and used to fertilise her eggs. One egg develops in each horn of the uterus (or womb) and the larvae feed through a process called “intrauterine oophagy”, which means they feed on successive unfertilised eggs produced by the mother. The two young emerge fully developed after around 5 to 8 months. They can measure as long as 70 mm upon birth, and weigh up to 2 grammes. Sexual maturity is reached at an age of three years in captivity and this species is estimated to live for over ten years.
Serge is a specialist on salamanders and newts
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