Researchers have discovered a new species of Vietnamese salamander that looks like it was birthed from an abyssal volcano. Found tucked away in Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science, the scientists described the species in the new edition of Current Herpetology. Coal-black with orange-tinted toes, the new crocodile newt (in the genus Tylototriton) was determined to be a new species when it showed morphological and genetic differences from near relatives. Despite its remarkable appearance, the researchers say these are typical colors for crocodile newts.
“I was asked by a curator to identify [the new species] and temporarily identified it as Tylototriton vietnamensis (the Vietnamese crocodile newt). However, the morphology was different from the original description of the Vietnamese crocodile newt,” Kanto Nishikawa with Kyoto University told mongabay.com. “Because I have never seen the Vietnamese crocodile newt I could not confirm the specimens in Tokyo are undescribed species. In 2012, I had a chance to visit Vietnam and discussed [the specimen] with co-author, Tao Thien Nguyen, and made a conclusion on its taxonomic status, as new species.”
The scientists named the new species Ziegler’s crocodile newt (Tylototriton ziegleri) after Thomas Ziegler of Cologne Zoo who works with reptiles and amphibians in Vietnam. The new species is small, with males measuring 5.4 to 6.8 (2 to 2.6 inches) centimeters and females measuring 7.1 centimeters (2.7 inches). While genetic testing proved that it was a new species, the morphological differences were key.
Ziegler’s crocodile newt is currently only known from only a small habitat of montane forest and wetlands.
“Currently, habitat loss and degradation, especially around the breeding ponds, is a major threat to the populations of the new species,” the researchers write in the paper. “Legal protection of their habitats and regulation of excessive commercial collection are important measures for conservation of this species.”
Crocodile newts are popular in the illegal pet trade and are often over-collected from the wild. There are now ten known species, eight of which have been evaluated by the IUCN Red List. Of these eight, three are threatened with extinction, four are listed as Near Threatened, and only one is Least Concern.
In the salamander family, newts have rougher skin than other salamanders as adults. Most of the world’s salamanders are in the newt family, also known as efts.
CITATION: Kanto Nishikawa, Masafumi Matsui, and Tao Thien Nguyen. A New Species of Tylototriton from Northern Vietnam (Amphibia: Urodela: Salamandridae). Current Herpetology 32: 34–49, February 2013.
This article was written for Mongabay.com and reposted on Focusing on Wildlife.