Conservation news

Podcast: Hellbenders, super-spreaders, and other salamanders face uncertain futures

  • The United States is home to the world’s greatest diversity of salamanders, so experts are worried about another pandemic that is headed for the country, one that has salamanders in its sights.
  • Hellbenders are North America’s largest salamanders, living in rivers and growing to an incredible length of over two feet. Eastern newts are tiny and terrestrial, but both are susceptible to the fungal pathogen called Bsal.
  • On this episode we speak with Dr. Becky Hardman from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and Dr. Anna Longo of the University of Florida about these fascinating and unique species, and discuss what is being done to prepare for a Bsal invasion that experts say is inevitable.
  • This is the sixth and final episode of the “Mongabay Explores” series about salamanders, published during alternate weeks from our flagship podcast, the Mongabay Newscast.

Hellbenders are North America’s largest salamanders, living in rivers and growing to an incredible length of over two feet. Eastern newts are tiny and terrestrial, but both are susceptible to a fungal pathogen called Bsal. While Bsal has yet to make an appearance in the global hotspot of salamander diversity that is North America, it has wreaked havoc on populations in Europe, so biologists worry its impact could be even worse if it does.

Eastern newts’ susceptibility to Bsal coupled with their notable mobility mean they could act as “super-spreaders” of Bsal if the fungus ever gets to North America. For hellbenders, which are already listed as endangered and suffer from habitat degradation, a new pathogen is hardly good news.

Podcast host Mike DiGirolamo speaks with Dr. Becky Hardman from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and Dr. Anna Longo of the University of Florida about these fascinating and unique species, and they discuss what is being done to prepare for a Bsal invasion that some experts say is inevitable.

Listen here:

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Eastern hellbenders can grow longer than two feet, making them North America’s largest salamander. Photo courtesy of Freshwaters Illustrated/Dave Herasimtschuk/USDA.

More reading from Mongabay on this topic:

Special thanks to Mike DiGirolamo – a journalist, marathoner, and actor living in Tennessee, right near the epicenter of salamander biodiversity in the U.S. – for hosting this “Mongabay Explores” podcast series.

If you missed episode 1, listen to his conversation with Dr. Karen Lips, “Are we ready?” here:

Episode 2 discussed the huge salamander diversity in North America, and the U.S. in particular, and explored reasons for this great richness:

The third episode discusses how researchers are searching for Bsal:

Episode four discussed how Canada, the U.S., and Mexico are working together to manage and mitigate the damage of the potential pandemic:

The fifth episode explored how policy and regulation could head off the looming salamander pandemic:

If you enjoy Mongabay’s podcasts, we ask that you please consider becoming a monthly sponsor via our Patreon page, at patreon.com/mongabay. Just a dollar or more per month helps us offset production costs and hosting fees, and can help us create special series like Mongabay Explores.

Banner photo: An eastern newt eft. Image by Steven Kersting (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).