Researchers have discovered one of the world’s smallest salamanders in a road-side creek in Georgia. The amphibian is so unique that it represents the first new genus of four-legged animal discovered in the United States in 50 years.
The 2-inch (5-cm) long salamander was first spotted in 2007 by Joe Milanovich, a graduate student at the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, and Bill Peterman, a grad student at the University of Missouri. The specimen was collected as the researchers were collecting another species. Subsequent genetic testing by other researchers identified the salamander as a new species, which has been dubbed the patch-nosed salamander for the light yellow coloring on its nose. Its scientific name is Urspelerpes brucei, in honor of Richard Bruce, a salamander expert and professor emeritus at Western Carolina University.
At 2 inches (5 cm), Urspelerpes brucei is the second smallest salamander in the United States. Photograph courtesy the University of Georgia
But interest in Urspelerpes brucei extends beyond its novelty as a previously unknown species — genetic analysis has revealed it to be so unusual that it has been placed in its own genus, the taxonomic level above individual species.
“It is truly a once-in–a-lifetime opportunity to be involved in such a big find, particularly one right in our backyard,” Milanovich said. “The fact that it is such a unique animal makes it all the better and gives us more opportunity to continue to learn about the species. One of the best parts of being involved with this project is the collaboration that has come out of the species description, so I am excited to continue working with the other coauthors as we keep unpeeling the onion of U. brucei.”
The formal description of Urspelerpes brucei is published in the Journal of Zoology.
C. D. Camp, W. E. Peterman, J. R. Milanovich, T. Lamb, J. C. Maerz, D. B. Wake. A new genus and species of lungless salamander (family Plethodontidae) from the Appalachian highlands of the south-eastern United States. Published Online: Jun 22 2009 12:04PM. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2009.00593.x