Virginia has quite a few state symbols, such as birds, trees, shells, fossils, songs, poems, and dogs (among many others) that residents have chosen over the years to represent our state. Earlier this month, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill officially declaring a new state icon for the Commonwealth: a state salamander. With the eastern United States being the salamander capital of the world, there are certainly plenty of species to choose from, but only one could claim the title: Pseudotriton ruber, the red salamander!
The red salamander is a medium sized salamander that typically grows to between 4 and 7 inches. A member of the Plethodontid family, it is a lungless salamander and respires through its skin; while they can be found on land, they spend the majority of their lives underwater in slow-moving streams. A fairly ravenous species, the red salamander will eat a variety of arthropods and even smaller amphibians, occasionally preying on other salamanders. Due to its larger size, the red salamander can have a significant impact on their local ecosystem, and their absence or presence can influence the community structure.
A 4-H group of students from Northern Virginia and the Williamsburg area requested and lobbied for the bill. A 4-H group is a network of organizations that gives kids opportunities to learn through hands-on projects in health, science and citizenship; together these students submitted their proposal, alongside drawings of the salamander.
“I was really impressed with them, they started and founded this organization known as the Salamander Savers. It’s a 4-H group, and they did their research, wanted to be involved in the process and see this through.” -Del. Eileen Filler-Corn Source
The naming of an official state salamander is a big win for conservation biologists. Amphibians are incredibly sensitive animals that serve as critical indicators of biological health. Over a third of all amphibian species worldwide are now threatened or endangered, many critically so, and herpetologists are struggling to raise awareness for this important group of animals. Thanks to the kids of Salamander Savers, we are now able to foster an appreciation for these salamanders as a Virginia icon!