WooHoo! It’s new and it’s a biggun!
What has two short, chunky arms, a mane of feathery gills, and a sleek, green-marbled, eel-like body as long as your leg? No guesses? Meet the reticulated siren, a massive, two and a half foot-long salamander, described for the first time in a paper published today in the journal PLOS ONE, hailing from the remote, secluded wilds of *checks notes* southern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
Sirens are a small family of unusual salamanders found throughout the Southeastern U.S. and parts of Mexico. They are entirely aquatic, living in swamps and ponds and keeping their bushy external gills through adulthood. Ranging from a few inches to over three feet long, sirens have shrimpy forelimbs, and have ditched their hindlimbs altogether, leaving only a long, eel-like body and tail fin. Their name comes from their mermaid-adjacent body plan and their occasional “singing” and croaking.
Knowledge of the reticulated siren didn’t just spring into being overnight. For decades, the salamander had an almost mythical status in herpetology circles.
Sean Graham, a biologist at Sul Ross State University, author of American Snakes, and lead author on the new study, first heard about the enigmatic “leopard eel” in the early 2000s. “It was almost a rumored thing, almost like a unicorn,” he recounted. “Some biologists were familiar with it and had seen it.”
Hearing those biologists’ stories and seeing the handful of preserved specimens that were collected years ago left an impression. “I thought ‘holy crap, this is a big siren species that’s really obviously different,’ boldly colored and crazy looking!” Graham said. About ten years ago, while in graduate school at Auburn University, he mentioned the siren’s possible existence to then-fellow student David Steen, now a research ecologist at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and coauthor on the study.
“We wanted to describe this mysterious siren that others had noted as occurring in southern Alabama,” Steen said. “But we had no real claim to the project; we knew that if we wanted to work on this species we had to find one in the wild ourselves.”
Graham and Steen periodically visited the salamander’s purported turf, but came back empty handed every time. Then, in 2009, Steen captured one in the Florida Panhandle.
Read the rest and find out how they did it…
Nearly Mythical 3-Foot-Long Swamp Salamander Is Officially a Real Species
I have loved salamanders ever since I started exploring the woods… well before my 10th. They’re just neat.
I dig this newly categorized Siren reticulata fellow. Nifty keen! And nice and big… a meter is big, eh?