June 18, 2013
UPDATE 12/12/2013: Two photos—of the yonahlossee salamander and the gray-cheeked salamander—in this essay, were attributed to the wrong photographer. We regret the error.
Appalachia may be known for many things: its music, its industry, its culture, but what about its salamanders? It turns out, of the 550 known salamander species in the world, 77 can be found in this mountainous area, more than any other one region in the world. Many of them can only be found there. But this global hotspot of salamander diversity is in danger, according to the National Zoo; global warming, which dries salamanders’ naturally wet habitats, and water pollution are the two biggest threats. All of which is why the Zoo is bringing 10 different species to an upcoming exhibit, “Jewels of Appalachia,” even as observation in the field continues.
Salamanders are known to be a hardy bunch, having survived for more than 200 million years through three mass extinctions. But, because they have relatively long lifespans, it’s unclear if the rapid pace of climate change will leave them time to adapt.
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