Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pink salamanders. I'm not kidding.

 Photo: Brian Parsons

Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes an email from Brian Parsons, reporting pink salamanders. Not only that, he's got the photos to back up this outrageous claim.

Brian is Director of Planning and Special Projects at the Holden Arboretum in northeast Ohio. He is a botanist, but is keenly interested in everything in the natural world, and for years has been monitoring a strange population of spotted salamanders, Ambystoma maculatum, on the Holden grounds.

QUICK PLUG: If you haven't visited Holden Arboretum and its 3,600 acres, add it to your bucket list. Not only does Holden contain a wealth of interesting ornamental plantings, its grounds also conserve some of the best natural areas in the northeastern corner of Ohio. Many rare plants occur naturally, and its varied habitats support a spectacular diversity of birds, including many unusual breeding species. The place is a state and national treasure.

This is my photo, of a pair of normally pigmented spotted salamanders, just like the one that graces the brand new Ohio Wildlife Legacy Stamp. Cool as they may be, Brian's pinkamanders make these boys look mundane.

 Photo: Brian Parsons

This shot shows one of the pink salamanders in a pool along with a normally pigmented individual. The contrast is jarring. Brian reports that this population of pink individuals has long been present at Holden, and their numbers are on the increase. Last night was the main push of spotted salamanders into the Holden breeding pools, including these bizarre pinksters.

Photo: Brian Parsons

Apparently these amphibians are erythrochroic; they possess the same genetic anomaly that causes the pinkness in the pink grasshopper of my last post, and Pinky the katydid. I don't know how common erythrism is in the amphibian world, but I've never seen it until Brian shared these amazing photos.

A bit of research reveals a smattering of documentation about erythristic salamanders, most notably the so-called "red morph" of the widespread red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus, such as THIS PAPER.

If anyone can shed any insight on these animals, or knows of other "pink" salamander populations, please share. And thanks to Brian for sharing the story of these decidedly odd amphibians.



treehugger_007 said...

Thanks for plugging Holden and its diverse biodiversity. I hope to see the pink females move to the vernal pool Thursday night if the forecast holds. Some of the males left the pool last night, but there were still several pink males in the pool. If any of your readers in NE OH want to see them for themselves they should feel free to contact me. bparsons@holdenarb.org

Sharkbytes said...

Where is Holden? I might be in NE Ohio this summer.

Jim McCormac said...

@Sharkbytes: just click on the words "Holden Arboretum" in my post - it's a link that will take you to their site and all you need to know.

That's a very gracious offer, Brian, and I would take you up in a heartbeat were I not already committed to something. Next year, though, I want to come up and witness this strange beasts firsthand! Hopefully some others can make it over tomorrow night.