|An Ozark Hellbender Salamander|
It has recently been reported that the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the Ozark hellbender salamander as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, the service also made a final decision in listing this salamander along with its relative the hellbender under Appendix III of CITES. According to the service's Midwest regional director Tom Melius, the Ozark hellbender is on the verge of extinction. Growing up to two feet long, the population of this bizarre amphibian decreased to an estimated 75 % during the 1980s with only 590 individuals remaining in the wild. It is thought that the causes of the downfall in the salamander's numbers include degradation in water quality, and habitat loss due to impoundments, ore and gravel mining, sedimentation and the pet trade. In addition to that, the salamander is also threatened by a fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis and severe physical distortions such as lesions, appendage and digit loss, and epidermal sloughing.
|The Chinese giant salamander (above) and the Japanese giant salamander (below) are also equally threatened as the hellbender.|
What is interesting about this article is that it gives a clear picture about the plight of a unique species of salamander that functions as a keystone species in several freshwater ecosystems in the southern and eastern U.S. The hellbender salamander is well-known because it belongs to a family of salamanders known as Cryptobranchidae, more commonly known as giant salamanders. These are the largest species of salamanders in the world. They are believed to have descended from an extinct species known as Andrias scheuchzeri, which grew up to a maximum of three feet in length. However, among its descendents, the largest are the Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders which grow up to six feet and five feet in length respectively. Although these colossal behemoths appear to have straight out of a sci-fi movie, they play a major role in maintaining the ecological balance in their aquatic habitats. Unfortunately, many are under threat from issues such as habitat loss caused by building of dams and even poaching for food and medicine. The hellbender salamander also faces these threats, though it has never been hunted for its flesh like its oriental cousins. However, it faces threats like loss of habitat, the pet trade, and until now from a fungal disease. This is why it is crucial to study this unique creature, in order to understand what may be causing this disease and hopefully find some way(s) to battle it. At the same time, the populations of Chinese and Japanese giant salamanders demand strict protection in their native homelands.
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