We’re excited to share that our Conservation team will soon start caring for a new species in peril: the frosted flatwood salamander! The arrival of these salamander larvae will kick off our efforts to protect amphibians.
We’ve partnered with the Amphibian Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia, to care for this critically endangered species with the goal to try to successfully breed them in the future. In the next few weeks, around 20 frosted flatwood salamander larvae will arrive at our Zoo.
This species is considered to be in imminent risk of extinction in the next 5-10 years due to the loss of their habitat, the longleaf pine ecosystem, which has been reduced to 3% of its original range. There are only three populations of frosted flatwood salamanders known to still live in their natural range in Georgia and Florida. The two Florida populations have habitats east of the Apalachicola River in Franklin, Wakulla, Liberty, Jefferson and Baker counties, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
These larvae will be the first we’ll receive, but we are hoping to receive more next season. Frosted flatwood salamanders reach their sexual maturity at 2 ½ to 3 years old. While not much information of their lifespan is known, other salamander species live on an average of 20 years, according to Luis Carrillo, an amphibian conservation planner who has partnered with our Zoo.
The larvae will be kept in a behind-the-scenes location. While in the larvae stage, these salamanders eat different aquatic invertebrates like brine shrimp and Daphnia, or water fleas, and even small worms. Adult frosted flatwood salamanders are fossorial, or burrowing, so they also eat drift, black and white worms.
Frosted flatwood salamander larvae are fully aquatic, so we will keep them in aquarium habitats. They have gills to breathe underwater, and those gills start reabsorbing when they are ready to leave the water, Carrillo said. Once this happens, we will provide a dry area in their habitat with sphagnum moss.
Irregular weather patterns have also played a part in this salamander species’ population declines, according to the Amphibian Foundation. Frosted flatwood salamanders breed on the edge of temporarily dry pools of water. The eggs hatch when rains fill the pools – if this doesn’t happen, the year’s offspring are lost.
When the time comes, we’ll recreate this unique egg laying instinct by giving our adult salamanders a dual environment with dry and wet areas to mimic these temporary ponds. Water levels will be controlled with a drainage valve on the bottom of the habitat.
Any offspring that may come from these 20 salamanders will be released in their natural range either in Florida or Georgia. This will be decided by the Captive Breeding Group and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Our Conservation team has conservation breeding programs for two key Florida species: the Perdido Key beach mouse and the Florida grasshopper sparrow, and we’ve been hoping to facilitate similar programs for amphibians, among other goals to help this group of animals. One-third to one-half of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction due to a variety of causes such as habitat loss, pollution, disease and climate change.
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