Mona's Field Notes - Feb. 10, 2015

Posted by: Mona Halvorsen 4 years, 3 months ago

(1 comment)

As a co-investigator who collects for numerous Big Thicket National Preserve primary investigators, I often scoop, net, and trap additional species other than my target. Yesterday morning I was checking a crayfish trap and found it full of other water animalia, one of which was a very long, eel-like creature. After removing the 5 catfish, 1 small perch and 2 crayfish, I attempted to remove the curious creature with a leather glove (I use a leather glove to remove catfish from traps because of their nasty spikes hidden in their fins). If you have ever had a cow or bison try to lick your face or hand you will understand the slime this thing produced. It slimed my glove so thoroughly I couldn't get a firm grasp on the slippery, foot-long, writhing creature. I finally had to remove my protective, leather glove and held my breath, hoped for the best and grabbed near its head to pull it through the very small opening of the crayfish trap.

It's head and mouth reminded me of a shark, and underneath it's body were four, tiny legs with 3 toes on each leg, that it was trying to use to push itself away from me. Photographing it became a comedy of errors, but finally snapped a couple of pics that at least would help identify the wiggling beast. I was with Edward Realzola, a whirligig researcher for the Thicket of Diversity project, and narrowed down that it was an amphibian, and definitely not an eel. I carefully put it back in Little Pine Island Bayou, and made sure it was able to swim away before leaving.

I sent the photos to Ken Hyde, Chief of Resource Management at Big Thicket National Preserve for identification. He contacted an expert Brad 'Bones' Glorioso, USGS Ecologist, who is conducting herptile studies in the BITH Beaumont Unit, who did identify my accidental catch. It's a salamander called a Three-toed Amphiuma. This is what 'Bones' Glorioso said about this salamander:

"That is a big Three-toed Amphiuma. You can just make out the tiny legs. They are fun to watch in the water, moving their tiny legs as if they are actually helping them move along. Although not really aggressive, these guys can give pretty nasty bites, as their teeth are like shark's teeth. They will even grab on to prey and twist their body around and around (like a croc's death roll) in order to break a piece of flesh off. As you likely observed, they are hard to handle due to their copious amounts of slime. Amphiumas eat plenty of the siren that I mentioned, and other things like crawfish, fish, etc. In turn, adult Mudsnakes, a most beautiful serpent, feed nearly exclusively on amphiuma and siren. Amphiuma are very common in more permanent waters, but they can be found in even less than permanent waters, as they have the ability to aestivate in a cocoon-like state in the mud of a dried waterway until the waters fill it up again. -Bones"

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Chuck Cooper 4 years, 1 month ago

Hi Mona. I'm glad you're ok after handling that Amphiuma. Here in the Smokies, the closest thing to this is the secretive glass lizard (only seen once because of a road kill), but without the slime. When I used to work in Pennsylvania, I did work with some American eels. Like your squirmy Amphuma, they had so much slime it was like trying to hold onto a greased piglet! Thanks for your very interesting story.

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