New York, January 26: Researchers have discovered the largest cave salamander in North America, a 9.3-inch specimen of the Berry Cave species.
"The record represents the largest individual within the genus Gyrinophilus, the largest body size of any cave-obligate salamander and the largest salamander within the Plethodontidae family in the US," said Nicholas Gladstone, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
The finding, published in Subterranean Biology, is making scientists re-examine growth limits of these animals in harsh environments and how hospitable underground environments really are.
Some species of salamanders have adapted to live in cave environments, which are thought of as extreme and inhospitable ecosystems due to the absence of light and limited resources.
Salamanders are one of the only two vertebrate animal groups to have successfully colonised caves. The other is fish, said Gladstone. The record-breaking specimen had some damage to the tail, leading researchers to believe that it was once nearly 10 inches long.
The Berry Cave Salamander can be found in only 10 sites in eastern Tennessee, and in 2003 it was placed on the US Fish and Wildlife Service's Candidate Species List for federal protection.
"This research will hopefully motivate additional conservation efforts for this rare and vulnerable species," said Gladstone.