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New species of salamander identified in Shikoku: study

The newly identified Tosashimizu salamander, below, sits next to an Oita salamander, above, at WanPark Kochi Animal Land, in the city of Kochi, on June 15, 2018. Until now, the two salamanders were both thought to be the same species, Hynobius dunni. (Mainichi)

KOCHI -- Scientists have discovered through DNA and physical trait analysis that a lentic salamander native to Tosashimizu, Kochi Prefecture, is a new species, WanPark Kochi Animal Land here announced on June 15.

    Once thought to be a member of the species Hynobius dunni, or the Oita salamander, the new species has been named the Tosashimizu salamander. The results of scientists' analysis were published in the American scientific journal "Herpetologica."

    The Tosashimizu salamander has a body length of roughly 12 centimeters, and lays its eggs in forest puddles and other bodies of water with no current. The salamanders were discovered in 1972, but since they resembled the Oita salamanders living on the island of Kyushu, the Shikoku-island creatures were long lumped together in the same species.

    Since the salamanders are endangered, WanPark Kochi started to raise and breed the animals from 2001. But the Tosashimizu salamanders' bodies are smaller than those of the Oita salamanders, and lacked the black spots clearly visible on the backs of their Kyushu cousins. It was also noted that the Tosashimizu animals sometimes had white spots on their bellies, along with other physical differences.

    WanPark called on experts to investigate the small water-dwellers, and it was discovered that not only were their physical features markedly different, but they also had differences in their DNA, leading scientists to deem them a new species.

    "When we found out that the salamanders were unique to Kochi, I felt that we had to step up our preservation activities even more," said park head Takashi Watabe.

    (Japanese original by Shiori Kitamura, Kochi Bureau)

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