Species of the Week: Taylor’s Salamander

Taylor’s salamander (Ambystoma taylori)like many other amphibians defies limits. This salamander has specialised for life in salty water. It can only be found in one lake in the world; a high altitude (2,290m) crater called Laguna Alchichica in eastern Puebla, Mexico.  This lake’s level of salt is almost the maximum that most adult amphibian species can tolerate, and it is far over the limit eggs and embryos of other amphibians can handle. It typically hides below the water line under overhangs in the crater’s edge of the lake and is found in far below the surface; often more than 30m deep.

But this is not the only thing that makes Taylor’s salamander so distinct in the tree of life. Taylor’s salamander is entirely aquatic, breeding and laying its eggs in the same lake where it was born. This is possible because the species never develops into an adult; instead it retains its juvenile characteristics throughout its life, essentially achieving reproductive maturity whilst still in its undeveloped larval form. This would be akin to a tadpole being able to breed without ever turning into a frog. As is the case with the other few species of salamanders that do not metamorphose into adults (known as neotenic salamanders), this species has a large head, underdeveloped limbs, and relatively short, thick external gill stalks

This salamander will eat anything, within reason, that fits into its mouth, including all aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates. They draw in food from the surrounding water by suddenly opening their mouths and allowing nearby prey items to flow inside.

The species is endemic to Laguna Alchichica and fully aquatic, this makes it seriously threatened by water extraction, diversion and pollution in the area. Therefore to protect this species it is a priority that Alchichica Lake be protected.

 

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