A new species of salamander has been found hiding in plain sight

The scientific name for the black-bellied Basga salamander is Desmognathus mavrokoilius.

Until recently, 30 species of salamander were thought to live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But a recent article in Bionomia, the international journal devoted to biological nomenclature, announced that what is believed to be one species of salamander has in fact been found from at least four different species, two of which live in the Smokies.

This discovery removes the black-bellied salamander from the park’s salamander list and adds both the Cherokee black-bellied salamander and the black-bellied salamander, bringing the total from 30 to 31 species in the park often referred to as The Salamander Capital of the World.

Will Cohn, Director of Science and Research at Discover life in Americaa non-profit park partner who runs a now 24-year-old effort to describe all types of parks and their relationships to one another.

Named by the eastern band of the Cherokee Indians, the black-bellied Cherokee salamander has the scientific name Desmognathus gvnigeusgwotli, with the translation

“These salamanders are what we call a cryptic species,” Kuhn explains. “Although they look alike, their DNA is different, which indicates that they probably do not interbreed in nature, even in places where their populations overlap.”

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The two men responsible for the Bionomia paper and decoding the two species are David A.

On a field expedition with his students, David Beamer, PhD, of Nash Community College and Amphibian Foundation, carefully unloads a siren salamander from the trap.

“I first sampled the black salamander in 2008 while working on my thesis,” said Beamer, PhD, of Nash Community College and Amphibian Foundation. “At the time, I was focused on sampling geographic units defined by river banks and ecoregions in which Smokies was a unique sampling area. No one else had included samples of Blackbellies from Smokies in any published genetic work, so no species was known to exist. Not recognized in Smokies.

What was previously referred to as the black-bellied salamander, or Desmognathus quadramaculatus F, was recently discovered by two scientists consisting of at least four different species, two of which live in Smokies.

Beamer’s thesis put the name of the placeholder for the substantia nigra, Desmognathus quadramaculatus F, into use. Then in 2010 he began collaborating with Pyron, and the two were awarded a National Science Foundation grant to engage in genome-wide studies, which would reveal entirely new and distinct species.

“Many of these species were first hinted at through early genetic work in the 1960s through the 1990s by a Smith College scientist named Steve Tilly,” says Byron, associate professor of Robert F. Greggs at George Washington University. “Other research from 2005 began to solidify the idea that it was new – around the time Dave was starting his graduate studies on sex.”

Alex Pyron is looking for a salamander in a stream survey as part of his fieldwork as the Robert F. Griggs Associate Professor at George Washington University.

In scientific protocol, the original authors of a species name those species. In this case, Beamer and Pyron had an idea that might bring recognition to the sense of place and the people who made these mountains their home long before Great Smoky Mountains National Park even existed.

“I met Caleb Hickman at the 2008 Southeast Ecology and Evolution Conference in Tallahassee,” Beamer recalls. “We were both graduate students at the time.”

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