Semirechensk salamander (Ranodon sibiricus)

Also known as: Central Asian salamander, Siberian salamander
Synonyms: Triton (Ranodon) sibiricus
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderCaudata
FamilyHynobiidae
GenusRanodon (1)
SizeLength: up to 25 cm (2)

The Semirechensk salamander is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Semirechensk salamander (Ranodon sibiricus) is an endangered amphibian with a highly restricted range (3). It is yellow-brown, dark olive or grey-green in colouration, sometimes with a pattern of dark spots (4) (5). The underside of the body is pale pink (5). The physical appearance of this species changes depending on the environment, with individuals usually appearing darker in water and lighter on land, especially when the temperature is high (4).

The body of the Semirechensk salamander is cylindrical and robust, with between 11 and 13 grooves along each side, which are known as ‘costal grooves’. The head is flattened and has large, bulging eyes. The tail is long and flattened with a blunt, tapering tip and is longer than or equal to the length of the body (4) (5). There are five toes on each of the Semirechensk salamander’s feet (4) (6).

The male and female Semirechensk salamander are different in appearance, with the variation between the two sexes becoming more prominent during the breeding season (1). The tail of the male is higher and longer than that of the female, and the male also has a crest on its back that is higher than the female’s and has an undulating edge. The legs and head of the male Semirechensk salamander are stockier than those of the female (4) (5).

Semirechensk salamander larvae typically have a more robust body than the larvae of other brook-dwelling salamander species (4).

The Semirechensk salamander has an extremely restricted range, being found only in the Dzungarian Alatau Mountain range in southern Kazakhstan and the Tianshan Mountains in northwest China (1) (3) (4) (7). The current range of this species is thought to be small due to changes made to the landscape by man (8).

The Semirechensk salamander mainly inhabits small, cold, clear streams and brooks in mountainous areas (1) (4) (5) (8), which are surrounded by coniferous forests and alpine and sub-alpine meadows (1) (3) (4) (5). The streams are found in dense networks on flat terrain (1) (4) and are usually shallow, with a depth between 10 and 30 centimetres (5). The Semirechensk salamander generally avoids areas with strong currents such as rivers and waterfalls (1) (5).

The Semirechensk salamander is found between elevations of 2,100 and 3,200 metres (1), where the average water temperature is between 4 and 6 degrees Celsius (7).

The breeding season of the Semirechensk salamander begins soon after the snow begins to melt in April, and continues until August (1) (4) (6). The same site is used by the same individuals each year (4), with the male releasing a spermatophore onto which the female lays the eggs (2) (9). The clutch of eggs consists of two sacs, which normally contain between 38 and 53 eggs and are joined together by a stem which anchors them to the substrate (1) (4). The development of the larvae is slow, and young Semirechensk salamanders are not ready to breed until they reach around five years old (1) (4).

Throughout the breeding season the Semirechensk salamander is aquatic, with all reproductive activity occurring in water (5). For the remainder of the year, this species is terrestrial. Hibernation usually begins soon after the end of the breeding season, in late September or early October, depending on the altitude (4) (5). As an adult and juvenile this species is nocturnal, while young larvae spread their activity evenly throughout the day and night (8).

The diet of the Semirechensk salamander is mainly composed of aquatic prey (4). The diet of the larvae usually consists of invertebrates taken from streams and flowing water, although prey from stagnant water is also taken (1) (4).

The specific habitat requirements of the Semirechensk salamander mean that it is vulnerable to any changes which occur within its habitat, such as deforestation, over-grazing and soil erosion (1) (3) (4). Land use changes have lead to the desiccation of its aquatic habitat, on which it is dependent for reproduction and feeding. The scarcity of suitable habitats has lead to the range of the Semirechensk salamander becoming severely fragmented and populations becoming disjointed (1). Local fishing practices involving the diversion of streams have also resulted in reductions in certain populations of the Semirechensk salamander (1) (3).

Grazing animals also pose a threat to the Semirechensk salamander, with livestock often trampling over its habitat, killing adults and destroying eggs (1). The excrement created by livestock can also damage eggs and larvae (8).

Use by locals as a treatment for malaria and broken bones, as well as use in traditional Chinese medicine, has also put this amphibian under threat (4) (5). Its collection for scientific, medical and commercial use has over-exploited and greatly reduced populations of the Semirechensk salamander in some areas (1) (3) (4).

The Semirechensk salamander is listed in the Red Data Books of the USSR and Kazakhstan and is listed as a protected species in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China. Only part of the Semirechensk salamander’s range is thought to fall within a protected area, although its presence there is unconfirmed. Current conservation efforts are thought to be insufficient to protect this endangered amphibian, but the creation of strictly protected areas could be an effective conservation measure to ensure the future survival of this endangered amphibian (1). 

Find out more about the Semirechensk salamander:

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This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Zug, G.R., Vitt, L.J. and Caldwell, J.P. (2001) Herpetology:An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. Second Edition. Academic Press, California.
  3. Kuzmin, S.L. (1996) Threatened amphibians in the former Soviet Union: the current situation and the main threats. Oryx, 30: 24-30.
  4. AmphibiaWeb - Semirechensk salamander (April, 2012)
    http://amphibiaweb.org/cgi/amphib_query?where-genus=Ranodon&where-species=sibiricus&account=raffaelli&gaa=
  5. Raffaëlli, J. (2007) Ranodon sibiricus. In: Les Urodèles du Monde. Penclen Édition, France. Available at: 
    http://amphibiaweb.org/
  6. Ebrahimi, M., Kami, H.G. and Stöck, M. (2004) First description of egg sacs and early larval development in Hynobiid salamanders (Urodela, Hynobiidae, Batrachuperus) from north-eastern Iran. Asiatic Herpetological Research, 10: 168-175.
  7. Zhang, P., Chen, Y.Q., Zhou, H., Wang, X.L. and Qu, L.H. (2003) The complete mitochondrial genome of a relic salamander, Ranodon sibiricus (Amphibia: Caudata) and implications for amphibian phylogeny. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 28: 620-626.
  8. Dolmen, D., Kubykin, R.A. and Arnekleiv, J.V. (1999) Diel activity of Ranodon sibiricus (Amphibia: Hynobiidae) in relationship to environment and threats. Asiatic Herpetological Research, 8: 29-37.
  9. Wells, K.D. (2007) The Ecology and Behaviour of Amphibians. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.