The U.S. holds the largest variety of salamanders and newts, but the appearance of a deadly disease-causing fungus in Europe and Asia has put scientists on alert.
It is known as Batrachochytrium salmandrivorans or Bsal. It’s a fungus that, as it makes contact with a newt’s skin, it sprouts severe lesions and causes respiratory malfunctions. The newt’s skin then decays and it won’t be able to eat, putting the specimen in risk of certain death.
North America has one of the largest populations of newts and salamanders, as it is home to at least a third of the world’s species. Bsal was first seen in Asia, and it quickly made its way throughout the continent until it reached the U.K. Thankfully, the fungus has not been spotted in Canada nor the U.S.
Stopping an impending disease
The concern comes from the fact that salamanders are common exotic pets, such as it is the case of fire belly newts, according to environmental toxicologist Natacha Hogan. She advises that buyers should be on the look as to where their new pet comes from, and to make sure that it’s country of origin has not been hit by the fungus. Hogan also stated that it is a must for owners to take care of their pet newts, by disinfecting their indoor habitats with bleach before throwing them away.
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It is known that from 2004 up to 2014, over 2 million salamanders were imported to the U.S. as pets, most of them from Asia. Not too long ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a ban on the import of hundreds of salamanders species which could carry the deadly fungus into the United States.
Biologists from the U.S. Geological Survey have started a protocol to stop the spread of the fungus before it’s too late, as it is likely to be transmitted through both illicit and legal animal trading.
The federal organization aims to review at least 10,000 different species of salamanders ranging from several states, to ensure the nationwide containment of the virus by keeping it offshore. Over a thousand reptiles have been part of the survey, and none of them show any symptom of being infected by Bsal. The study is an effort that aims to prevent the circumstances that led to the spread of the White-nose syndrome, a similar fungus that affected bat populations all over the U.S.
Newts, vital to the ecosystem
Salamanders and newts are important in the food chain, as they are necessary for keeping insect populations stable and serving as prey for larger animals. Although this is true for most amphibians, the appearance of Bsal might cause a massive disappearance of salamanders as biologists fear that the fungus would be able to spread rapidly throughout the United States’ ecosystem.
Bsal has already been able to affect severely frog populations, specifically in Europe, where an outbreak occurred in the United Kingdom and Germany. Bsal then reached Netherlands, and it reportedly managed to take out nearly every fire salamander in the country, posing a significant threat to any country’s ecosystem.