Views / Science Says

The slippery slope to extinction: Salamanders are in trouble

A plague has struck adorable amphibians across the pond, and North America could be next.

A deadly fungus imported from the pet trade is threatening salamanders in Europe and North America.

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A deadly fungus imported from the pet trade is threatening salamanders in Europe and North America.

A plague has descended on one of Europe’s cutest creatures: The spotted fire salamander. If — more like when — the disease hits North America, land of spectacular salamander diversity, the consequences could be worse than the catastrophe across the pond. Why is this happening to these adorable amphibians? And can anything stop it?

No-fun fungus
Salamanders’ sworn enemy is the deadly fungus Bsal. Its microscopic spores burrow into the animals’ skin, forming pockets that fill with more spores and burst, spreading the infection. With damaged skin, salamanders can’t regulate  their water levels and die.

It’s coming
Bsal has decimated black-and-yellow fire salamanders and other species in the Netherlands and part of Belgium. It was introduced from China through the pet trade. Asian salamanders have some immunity, but European and North American ones are defenceless.

What can we do?
The scramble is on to prevent Bsal from reaching North America. There’s talk of culling salamanders around the worst-affected areas or sealing them off with a salamander-proof wall. The U.S and Canada have banned imports of some species, but cracking down could push the pet trade underground.  Best case: Salamanders develop immunity.

Andres Plana/Metro

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