Meet the Reticulated Siren, Alabama’s newest salamander, one of the biggest amphibians in the world

Photo of the newly named reticulate siren. Photo by Pierson Hill via Facebook

Yesterday, salamander enthusiasts, herpetologists and nature lovers around the world were introduced to a new species of salamander found only in Alabama and Florida – the Reticulated Siren.

The new species is described in the journal PLOS ONE by scientists Sean P. Graham, Richard Kline, David A. Steen and Crystal Kelehear.

Screenshot of photo from David Steen’s Facebook page

According to a comment in National Geographic by David Steen, co-author of the paper describing the salamander, the new species is one of the largest creatures to be described in the United States in over 100 years. He also added that it took about five years of searching ponds and waterways in the Florida panhandle before they could come up with enough specimens to describe the species.

Here is Steen’s announcement on Facebook about the newest salamander described by scientists.

What are Sirens?

Sirens are among the world’s largest salamanders—and  members of the Sirenidae family. They are completely aquatic. Unlike most salamanders, sirens have lost their hindlimbs through millions of years of evolution. They wear their gills on the outside, which absorb oxygen from water in the murky ecosystems they inhabit. Sirens also lack eyelids and sport tiny, horny beaks instead of teeth.

Two Auburn alums

Discovering and describing a new species is not an easy task, in many cases it may take years, even though the scientists know the “rare critters” are out there. Biologist and author Mark Bailey explains.

“Sean Graham and David Steen, two of the best field naturalists I know, have been working on describing this animal since they were herpetology students at Auburn over a decade ago. A few of us knew the “leopard eel,” as we called it, was out there, but it took years and a ton of work to gather sufficient data to write up the scientific description, at last giving this beautiful creature a formally recognized name. Thanks to these two and their collaborators, we can now add Siren reticulata, the Reticulated Siren, to Alabama’s list of nearly 50 salamanders.”

Alabama: A global hotspot

The announcement of the new salamander species coincides with recent stories about the state of Alabama being a global biological hotspot. It also reminds us, there are so many plants and animals yet to be discovered and protected.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.