A salamander found in northern Florida and southern Alabama, known scientifically as the Siren reticulata, has been identified as a new species.
Named the reticulated siren, this two-foot-long vertebrate is one of the largest to be scientifically described from the United States over the last 100 years, according to a study published in PLOS ONE. It’s also the first new member of the Siren genus of salamanders since 1944.
The genus was previously known to contain just two species, but rumors of a third--referred to as the “leopard eel” by locals--intrigued reptile experts in Florida and Alabama. One of the few encounters with this salamander was in 1994 when biologist John Jensen came across a flooded road in Alabama, where hundreds of leopard eels were squirming.
“The whole thing was kind of a campfire story,” Dr. Sean Graham, co-author of the study, tells The New York Times. “I was hearing rumors about it from people like Jensen, and then years would go by and I would never see a description of the species.”
The evidence to describe the previously unrecognized species also suggests the possibility of other species of sirens as yet undiscovered. “A lot of the animals we thought were greater sirens and lesser sirens are probably the reticulated siren or other animals that we haven’t formally recognized,” Dr. David Steen, co-author of the study, tells the outlet.
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