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Zoo helping to sustain salamander population

Toledo hosts 'Amazing amphibians'

  • northern-red-salamander

    A Northern Red salamander resides in the 'Amazing Amphibians' exhibit in the Museum of Science at the Toledo Zoo. Like frogs, salamanders are under pressure from habitat destruction and pollution.

    <The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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  • CTY-Zoo06p-Tim-Herman

    Tim Herman checks on some salamanders at the Toledo Zoo, which has one of the largest collections of the amphibians in the world.

    <The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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northern-red-salamander

A Northern Red salamander resides in the 'Amazing Amphibians' exhibit in the Museum of Science at the Toledo Zoo. Like frogs, salamanders are under pressure from habitat destruction and pollution.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Like many kids, Tim Herman often passed time catching salamanders.

Now Mr. Herman, raised in Peoria, Ill., gets paid to gather the amphibians in such remote locations as the Kentucky mountains as a herpetologist with the Toledo Zoo.

"I grew up in a canoe," Mr. Herman said. "My dad would fish and I would collect toads and frogs and salamanders -- whatever I could get my hands on."

Critters zoo visitors see in the "Amazing Amphibians" exhibit are just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the scenes is an extensive reproduction program.

Mr. Herman, who has worked 10 years at the zoo, recently helped facilitate the reproduction of endangered green salamanders. It is believed to be the first time they have been bred in captivity.

This isn't the first time Mr. Herman has played matchmaker for the zoo's salamander population. In 2008, one Northern slimy salamander egg hatched at the zoo. It is believed to be the first time salamanders were bred in a zoo setting.

Like frogs, salamander populations are under huge pressure from habitat destruction and pollution. That's why the Toledo Zoo's herpetology department has put an emphasis on developing husbandry techniques.

Salamanders are of great conservation concern, zoo Executive Director Jeff Sailer said.

"Few people realize that the United States is the center of biodiversity for salamanders. No other place on earth is home to so many different species of these amphibians," Mr. Sailer said. "The Toledo Zoo has made a great commitment to studying salamander biology and conserving salamanders. Ours is the most extensive program of its kind in the country."

CTY-Zoo06p-Tim-Herman

Tim Herman checks on some salamanders at the Toledo Zoo, which has one of the largest collections of the amphibians in the world.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

The Toledo Zoo has one of the largest salamander collections of any zoo in the world, with 27 species and 390 total salamanders, Mr. Herman said.

The zoo is home to a brood of 17 baby green salamanders, born about three weeks ago. The tiny creatures are only about a half-inch long and have not changed much from their birth size, spending most of their short lives thus far absorbing their yolk sacks.

It will be several years before they reach maturity. The species lives 20 to 30 years, he said.

The babies are the offspring of salamanders collected by Mr. Herman during two trips to a rocky area of eastern Kentucky.

"For years, people thought they just lived in rock crevices," Mr. Herman said. "But recently, it was discovered that they also live in the tops of trees."

Very small numbers of green salamanders live in Ohio, so the trip to Kentucky was necessary, he said. Permits were obtained to collect the salamanders, he added.

The salamanders lay their eggs on land, typically in rock crevices, so zoo staff had to replicate their natural condition as closely as possible with temperature and light cycles. Mr. Herman made a habitat with layers of sandstone to mimic where they had been gathered.

"Hardly anyone has worked with these salamanders before," he said. "We're laying the groundwork to help sustain the wild population."

Contact Tanya Irwin at: tirwin@theblade.com or 419-724-6066.

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