Deadly Fungus Endangers American Salamanders

Colorful, curious, quadruped. The Salamanders of North America are intriguing little sprites, but scientists are now warning us that they are in danger of succumbing to a great threat.

“This is an imminent threat, and a place where policy could have a very positive effect,” suggested San Francisco State University biologist Vance Vredenburg, one of the researchers responsible for the study’s recent surfacing. “We actually have a decent chan[ce] at preventing a major catastrophe.”


What’s threatening North American Salamanders is Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (aka Bsal), a pathogen similar in kind to a different killer fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatitidis (aka Bd), the second of which has killed more than 200 amphibian species worldwide since 1999. In some areas, Bd has actually wiped out forty percent of amphibian species.


Bd kills its hosts by hardening their skin until they are no longer capable of regulating electrolytes, and sets them onto an irreversible track to cardiac arrest.

“One of the things that I find remarkable about this is that unlike when we first figured out what was going on with Bd, no one could even imagine that one pathogen could cause so much damage across all these different species, because we had never seen anything like that ever before,” Vredenburg laments. “What’s encouraging about this time, with Bsal, is that the scientific community figured it out really quickly, and we can learn a lesson from the past.”


The lesson we might take from this is to remember our strengths, not our failings. Despite all our failings, as scientists, as caretakers of other species, because of our scientific tenacity, we were able to learn the pattern of this pathogen’s dispersal across various species. In North America, half of all 676 official salamander species known worldwide live in constant danger. Interestingly, this half represents nine out of ten families in the order Caudata. But unless we continue to study their local habitats scattered across the countryside, it may be difficult to maintain our knowledge of the three high-risk areas, where the highest rates of Bsal infection occur.

At the moment, these three danger-zones include the Southeast (i.e. the southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains), the Pacific Northwest, and the Sierra Nevada highlands of Central Mexico.

Salamanders are an amazing species. Preserve all that nature has to offer by bringing it into your home via the Atmoph window: