A Strange Salamander With ‘Christmas Trees’ On Its Head Has Been Captured In Florida

It had evaded them for decades. American researchers have finally managed to capture a mythical creature, the reticulated siren.

For decades, the ‘reticulated siren’ (siren reticulata), a salamander species endemic to the southeastern United States, had managed to escape researchers trying to study it. A team has finally managed to locate this legendary creature in the Florida waters. After successfully capturing it, today they can provide the first detailed descriptions. They published their remarks in the PLOS One magazine.

The leopard eel, not eel nor leopard

Like the other members of the genus Sirenidae, the famous S. reticulata is more like a long eel than a salamander. Its body is also stained with many spots, which earned it the nickname ‘leopard eel.’ Reaching more than 23 inches long, it has a unique pair of legs, which are anterior. But its most atypical aspect probably lies in its gills.

If you have ever seen an axolotl, you will have noticed a resemblance to the kinds of ‘pompons’ on both sides of the head. These gills, present in other neotenic salamanders, are particularly developed in S. reticulata. With an appearance resembling Christmas trees, also stained with spots, they allow the animal (technically amphibian) to spend all its life under water.

‘Polka-dotted ostrich’ of the seas

A first ‘leopard eel’ specimen was captured in 1970 and described very succinctly and in little detail in 1975. A surprising fact, because according to Graham, ‘Ornithologists would have fought against their competitors to be the first to describe a new species of bird in North America. And a bird as unique as this animal would probably look like a polka dotted ostrich.’

After years of doubt, research and obstacles, Graham and his team managed to capture the legendary animal and provide a detailed description. Genetic analysis will be needed to complete their research, to learn more about the properties of this creature that has such a particular appearance.

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