Everyone knows the tiger, the panda, the blue whale, but what about the other five to thirty million species estimated to inhabit our Earth? Many of these marvelous, stunning, and rare species have received little attention from the media, conservation groups, and the public. This series is an attempt to give these ‘forgotten species’ some well-deserved attention.
The salamander was a mythical creature before it was a real one: the word salamander means a legendary lizard that both survived in and could extinguish the fire. A creature that the Ancient Greeks, including Aristotle, appeared to readily believe in.
No one knows how the term salamander transferred from a mythical fire-dwelling monster to the small amphibious animals it applies to today. Perhaps the sight of salamanders like Luristan newt—charcoal-black and flame-orange—caused people in the seventeenth century to lend the name of myth to the taxa. Native to a tiny river region in the Zagros Mountains of Iran, the Luristan newt Neurergus kaiseri stuns everyone who works with it.
Neurergus kaiseri is the smallest of the Neurergus species, with an adult length of 10-14 cm. Sparreboom et al. (1999) describe the coloration of this species as “unique and rich in contrast, with a mosaic of black and white patches and orange-red
dorsal stripe, legs, and belly.”
The sexes can be differentiated by the anatomy of the cloaca, with the male having an enlarged, rounded cloacal region, and the female having a volcano-shaped cloaca. However, these differences are clearly visible only during the breeding season. Outside of the breeding season, it may be impossible to distinguish between the sexes.
The morphology of the skull and vertebrae reveal significant differences between N. kaiseri and N. strauchii, but the greater similarity between N. kaiseri and Triturus alpestris. Evolutionary analysis based on DNA reveals that the 4 Neurergus species are monophyletic (a single lineage), and their nearest relatives are the Triturus and Euproctus.
- kaiseri are local to the Lurestan Province of Iran, at an elevation of 750-1200 m. Unlike the other Neurergus, which inhabit the cold mountain streams and live in cold climates, N. kaiseri come from a hot and dry climate. They reproduce in winter amid times of rain, which are followed by long periods of hot and dry weather in which the animals estivate. On the basis of estimation, water is available in their habitat for 3 months of the year or less. in addition to streams, N. kaiseri— unlike the other Neurergus— are reported to use vernal pools and ponds. But, their wild habitat has not been well examined.
Behavior and history in captivity
- kaiseri have a reputation for being a skittish, shy species. Their movement on land is similar to that of lizards more than that of salamanders. When aquatic, however, the animals often lose their flighty behavior and may even beg for food. In general, wild-caught adults are shyer than their captive-bred counterparts. They normally avoid light and are active at night and in low light.
The newts spend the day under the lower hides and forage for food among open spaces and upper hides at night. They have an inclination for roosting high and are very active not long after the lights are turned out. The water dish is used much of the time and the animals are often observed taking a quick soak. They are exceptionally gregarious towards one another and will often be discovered huddled together under a single hide. Intra-specific aggression is not an issue.
Recently (2005-2008), there have been illegal exports of N. kaiseri from the wild into the pet trade. Considering the endangered status of the species, this distribution of wild-caught animals has probably had a serious effect on wild populations. A great number of these wild-caught animals have died from diseases within a short time after purchase.
Starting from 2005, the IUCN Redbook listed N. kaiseri as Critically Endangered. The Global Amphibian Assessment refers to the following evidence: “its extent of occurrence is less than 100 km2, its area of occupancy is less than 10 km2, its populations are severely fragmented, and there is a continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat, as well as a decline in the number of mature individuals due to over-harvesting for the illegal pet trade”. It is believed that less than 1000 adults exist in nature. According to the Red List, the population has dropped by 80 percent in less than a decade due to the collection for the pet trade.
In light of the endangered status of these animals, it is highly important that the animals now in captivity be reproduced, and that hobbyists avoid buying wild-caught animals. This care sheet will hopefully help to stabilize captive breeding groups. We urge all breeders to participate in studbooks and to correspond with other breeders.
The Luristan Newt is a candidate for CITES listing. There is also a breeding plan for the Luristan Newt at the Sedgwick County Zoo. Iran is planning on starting its own breeding program.