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Credit & Copyright: Dr. Bruce G.
Explanation: This is one of the rarest vertebrate species in North America: a Van Dyke's Salamander. Few people have observed these creatures in their natural mountain streamside habitats.
This one was temporarily detained during a study just outside the Mount St. Helens area of southwestern Washington state. View a slide show of the study. Locating the critter takes a special survey protocol.
Van Dyke's Salamanders are known only from western Washington state. They are extremely rare, with total numbers likely less than just a few hundred, making them perhaps the rarest animal around. Suitable habitat, as predicted from the Washington Gap Analysis Project, encompasses parts of the Olympic Peninsula, Willapa Hills, and southern Cascade Mountains, in Washington. It is a species of concern on Olympic National Forest and elsewhere in its scant range, and the Washington Gap Analysis Project considers it to be an "at-risk species."
The species is very aquatic and is closely associated with vegetated cover in the splash zone of creeks and waterfalls, in rather harsh and cold mountain environments.
First described in 1906, the Van Dyke's Salamander is closely related to the Coeur d'Alene Salamander (Plethodon idahoensis) which used to be considered a subspecies. The two probably diverged because of their isolated populations.
Acknowledgment: Many thanks to Forest Service herpetologist and colleague Dr. Charlie Crisafulli, whose hand appears in the above photo, for including me in this field outing and sharing his knowledge of this species.
Next week's picture: Mnium spinulosum: A Little Moss With Big Teeth
Author & Webmaster: Dr.
Bruce G. Marcot, Tom Bruce
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