Monday, April 25, 2011

Connecticut Audubon Society biologist identifies new species of salamander in Costa Rica during research trip with Connecticut high school students

Between March 5-17, Connecticut Audubon Society staff members and Litchfield area high school teachers traveled to the Costa Rican rainforest again to teach a group of local high school students about the importance of forest conservation. This year their trip was crowned with a very special find: a salamander species new to science! Twan Leenders, Conservation Biologist for the Connecticut Audubon Society, who leads the project’s amphibian and reptile research, says that, "It is very exciting to find a new species of salamander in a time when many amphibian populations are declining dramatically worldwide. This discovery underscores how much we still have to learn about tropical ecosystems even in relatively well-traveled regions."

This small salamander was discovered during a recent tropical biology course in Costa Rica
and identified as a new species to science

Twan Leenders has been involved with the project for 18 years and has been studying declining amphibian populations in Costa Rica and elsewhere for many years. Over the years, several teams of Rainforest Project students have helped him document the population status of several threatened amphibian species in the preserve. The discovery of a new species of salamander in the area provides a little bit of a counterbalance to the many years of documenting declining species and loss of habitat.

The new salamander is small, measuring only about 2.5” from its snout to the tip of its tail, and was discovered in a plant that had fallen from the canopy. Even without access to many resources it quickly became clear that this animal did not resemble any of the known species in the area. The animal was photographed carefully and all its diagnostic features were documented. Additional research upon the team’s return to Connecticut and some feedback from other salamander experts quickly confirmed the animal’s uniqueness. "This is an undescribed species of Oedipina" says Dr David Wake from UC Berkeley, the world’s premier authority on salamanders, "unlike any I have ever seen."

The new salamander is apparently quite secretive since it managed to escape detection for almost two decades

To learn more about Connecticut Audubon Society's efforts in conservation and education, please visit our website (, give us a call (203-259 6305), or drop by one of our centers for more information.

Students involved in the Costa Rican Rainforest Project present their findings, including the discovery of this new species, during their annual dissertation day at The Forman School in Litchfield. The event is free and open to anyone interested. More information and a complete schedule for the day can be found here.

Video of the presentations will also be streamed online in real-time here.

Photographs © Twan Leenders

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