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SACRAMENTO FWO: California Tiger Salamander and the ‘Ambassadors’ of Their Species
California-Nevada Offices , August 2, 2012
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One of the young California tiger salamanders being adopted by Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding.
One of the young California tiger salamanders being adopted by Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. - Photo Credit: Christopher Searcy
Salamanders change form and go from living in the water when they are born, to living on land.
Salamanders change form and go from living in the water when they are born, to living on land. - Photo Credit: Christopher Searcy
CTS spend the first 3-5 months of their lives as aquatic larvae with dorsal fin and aquatic gills.
CTS spend the first 3-5 months of their lives as aquatic larvae with dorsal fin and aquatic gills. - Photo Credit: Christopher Searcy

By Ashely Cotter, Summer Intern, Sacramento Field Office

The endangered California tiger salamander is rarely spotted in the wild but soon seven will be taking the stage at zoos and environmental education centers in California, thanks to the efforts of U.C. Davis and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service).

A project is underway for the adoption of seven propagated California tiger salamanders (CTS) by various organizations to foster public outreach and education for this rare amphibian. The salamanders involved were born and raised in captivity in a study by Dr. Brad Shaffer in his lab at U.C. Davis.

The study observed what effects the number of salamander larvae, amount of prey and water levels had on the size of the salamander during the metamorphosis from water to land.  Dr. Shaffer’s study created 40 artificial pond communities that replicated the breeding ponds of CTS and then varied the three factors; number of salamander larvae, number of prey (the bugs and things salamanders eat) and water levels. The study found that all three things effected salamander size; however, the most influential factor was the number of salamander larvae present in the artificial pond. If a pond contained a greater number of larvae, the salamanders size was smaller as the animal begins the transformation from an aquatic life to one on land.

The researchers at U.C. Davis think it means CTS get a sort of pass or at least a better chance at survival. If the larvae salamander population in any given year is low, those salamanders that make it to the metamorphose phase are bigger and more likely to survive to adulthood.

The salamanders could not be released into the wild because they may have been exposed to contagions, such as the deadly chytrid fungus, in the laboratory setting due to exposure to other animals and humans. To prevent the possible spread of disease it is standard practice to not release lab animals into the wild. After the study was completed and these rare animals had given their best to science, a number of CTS were removed from the site and are now at adopted homes. These salamanders will continue to benefit their species and our understanding of them through public outreach and educational opportunities.

Although the public is not permitted to keep endangered species in captivity, the Service is able to let zoos and other organizations display CTS for educational reasons. David Kelly, a biologist from the Service’s Sacramento Field Office, drafted the transfer letters for adopting the salamanders and shared his expectations and hopes for this project. He was optimistic for the outcome of these adoptions and believes that the visual of real live salamanders will move the public to help save this endangered species, especially when the rare species is hardly ever seen.

“They‘re really kind of cute,” Kelly told me as he explained how powerful the salamanders’ image could be. What better way to bring attention to their cause, than to use their own adorable little faces? These tiny creatures will no doubt bring a new form of education and conservation to their species while, as Kelly so nicely put it, acting as “little ambassadors of the CTS.”

The organizations adopting the salamanders include: CuriOdyssey, the Oakland Zoo, Sacramento Splash, the Sacramento Zoo, the San Francisco Zoo, Swaim Biological, and Redding’s Turtle Bay Exploration Park. They should be on display soon, so be on the lookout for news and be sure to visit a California tiger salamander ambassador in the future.


Contact Info: Sarah Swenty, 916-414-6571, sarah_swenty@fws.gov



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