TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Scientists are working to reintroduce the western striped newt in the Apalachicola National Forest.
The Tallahassee Democrat reported on Sunday that the lizard-like salamanders disappeared from the region in 2007 after inhabiting the area for millennia.
Through captive breeding programs, biologists have begun bringing hundreds of newt larvae back to ponds inside the national forest. Dozens of larvae have survived and emerged as “efts,” baby newts that are about 2 inches long with a tail and four, tiny limbs.
Although newts may not to be the cutest or largest of endangered creatures, scientists say they are a critical indicator of the health of their native environments.
“It’s not a panda, it’s no Bengal tiger, but it is an important component of the longleaf pine forest of the Southeast,” said Steve Johnson, a University of Florida assistant professor of wildlife ecology and conservation working with the Meanses on the project. “As stewards of our earth we are bound to help. It’s a cool little critter, and it’s worth saving.”
Experts say it is too early to known if the efforts will be successful, but that the work is an important step in saving the amphibious, mosquito-eating species.
Husband and wife biologists Ryan and Rebecca Means area leading a team fighting to bring back the western striped newt.
Although the biodiversity value of the striped newt is not fully understood, Johnson likened its loss to pulling a thread from a carpet — pull out enough of them, the carpet unravels. The extinction of the striped newt could have far-reaching consequences to its native ecosystem as a whole.
“It’s something that could affect many other species that people might think are important,” Rebecca Means said.
“The fact that they are going extinct means something is going on here. They don’t just up and decide to move away.”