Salamanders and Decontamination
Inyo Mountains slender salamander
The Inyo Mountains slender salamander ranges in size from 1 to 3 inches from snout to vent. They have a broad head, rounded snout, and large eyes. They exhibit different coloration ranging from dark brown, reddish, silvery, or black. Iridophores (a type of pigment-containing and light-reflecting cell or cells) cover the head and body, which gives it a silvery appearance.
In 1973, the Inyo Mountains slender salamander was discovered at a couple of springs in the Inyo Mountains. It has a small range that includes springs located within the Inyo Mountains. Not much is known about this species as it is hard to find and it can inhabit remote sites that are difficult to access. Some of these sites may also be used by Monarch butterflies.
State & Federal Protections
Currently, the Inyo Mountains slender salamander is considered a Species of Special Concern by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. A Species of Special Concern is a species, subspecies, or distinct population of an animal (fish, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal) native to California that currently satisfies one or more criteria. More information on this topic can be found here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/SSC
You are not allowed to capture or handle these animals without a permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. If you do find a salamander, you may take photo, record any observations (e.g., appearance, behavior, habitat description), record the coordinates or give a general description of its location, and then pass along this information to one of the coordinators.
The Inyo Mountains slender salamander is not protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act. However, in the near future, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will review the status of this species and evaluate potential threats to it and its habitat to determine if it should receive protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The greatest threat to the Inyo Mountains slender salamander is the loss or alteration of habitat. This can be due to manmade changes such as water diversions that reduce or eliminate suitable habitat. Natural events such as flash floods can also alter and remove habitat. Salamanders need moist areas to survive. Individuals cannot easily recolonize areas even if habitat is restored because they are surrounded by large swaths of desert habitat.
Another potential threat to salamanders is from a disease called chytridiomycosis or chytrid. Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) affects salamanders, but is currently only impacting populations in Europe. Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) has impacted frogs and toads worldwide as well as locally in the Sierra Nevada.
Chytrid affects keratin in the skin. It causes the skin to become thickened and interferes with the amphibian’s ability to absorb water and electrolytes. This imbalance can eventually cause the heart to stop. For lungless salamanders such as the Inyo Mountains slender salamander, chytrid could cause them to suffocate since they “breathe” through their skin.
There is no known cure for chytrid though infected animals can be treated if the outbreak is detected early on. However, treated individuals do not pass on immunity to their offspring. So once chytrid is present in an aquatic environment, the offspring of the treated individuals will likely become infected and die. Therefore, it is very important that we do all we can to not spread the disease outside of infected watersheds. More information on this topic can be found here: http://www.amphibianark.org/the-crisis/chytrid-fungus/
Why is decontamination important?
It is unclear how chytrid moves in between locations. However, contaminated footwear and equipment that comes into contact with infected waters could serve as a vector that moves it around from one place to another. We are asking that people conducting surveys decontaminate at least their shoes, especially if they have been hiking in the Sierra Nevada.
How will I decontaminate my footwear?
One effective method for killing the chytrid fungus is to use a dilute solution of bleach. It is important that you use FRESH household bleach; do not use expired bleach or a bottle that has been open for more than a month. Also, make sure to use a standard bleach solution (e.g., Clorox® Regular Bleach), which should be about 6% sodium hypochlorite. Do not use a less concentrated formula.
Materials & Supplies Needed
- Hiking shoes
- Stiff brush
- Small tub or container (preferably one that can hold both shoes at the same time)
- Empty 1-gallon container (can be a smaller size but adjust ratio of bleach and water as needed)
- A standard bleach solution with 6% sodium hypochlorite
The decontamination process is easy and straightforward. I find it easiest to decontaminate my shoes in the bathroom by placing a smaller tub into the bathtub. This will contain any accidental spills.
Step 1. Use a stiff brush to remove any debris such as mud from the soles of your shoes. It is important that the bleach solution come into contact with the soles of your shoes.
Step 2. Using your empty 1-gallon container, mix a 1:20 bleach solution-to-water ratio. For example, use about 6 oz. (~180 mL) of bleach per gallon of water.
Step 3. Slowly pour the solution into a small tub (or any other small container that can fit your shoes). I recommend pouring a small amount of the dilute bleach solutions into the tub and then placing one shoe carefully into it to see how high it goes up on the sole of your shoe. You want to cover as much of the sole as possible while avoiding contact with the leather or fabric of your shoe.
Step 4. Once you have poured the right amount of solution, carefully place your shoes in the tub. You want to avoid splashing this solution onto your skin or eyes.
Step 5. Allow your shoes to soak in the solution for at least 5 minutes.
Step 6. Carefully remove your shoes and rinse them with water. You can do this by dumping the dilute bleach solution out and refilling the tub with fresh water.
Step 7. Allow your shoes to dry.