Meravigliose e preoccupanti notizie allo stesso tempo dal Pianeta Terra. La salamandra gigante cinese era (una volta) classificata e considerata un’unica specie, sotto il nome scientifico di Andrias davidianus. In un articolo apparso su Current Biology i ricercatori mostrano invece che le popolazioni attualmente esistenti (e in preoccupante pericolo di estinzione) sono in realtà un assemblaggio di specie, cinque o forse addirittura otto! Questo fatto indica una volta di piu’ che la tassonomia degli anfibi e di molti altri animali del nostro mondo biodiverso è ancora in uno stato incompleto e che l’attività’ degli zoologi e tassonomi (anche loro in via di estinzione) e’ ancora estremamente necessaria. Non solo per conoscere le specie che vivono intorno a noi, ma anche – si spera – per proteggerle. Tutte le cinque (o otto) specie cinesi appartenenti al genere Andrias sono minacciate. Non solo per l’alterazione degli habitat e per altre problematiche classiche, ma anche perché le diverse popolazioni, ora riconosciute come specie distinte, sono state traslocate più volte: ritenendo che gli individui appartenessero ad un’unica specie salamandre provenienti da diverse località sono state rilasciate in habitat non propri, con conseguente incremento di fenomeni di ibridazione. Questa suddivisione in 5-8 specie è stata vista come sorprendente, e fino ad ora non riconosciuta a causa del fatto che le salamandre presentano una morfologia simile, mentre in realtà si sarebbero differenziate nel tempo nei tre sistemi fluviali principali e in alcuni altri bacini idrografici, fra loro isolati. Questo isolamento ha probabilmente causato una profonda divergenza ecologica e geografica nonché una conseguente speciazione.

Current Biology, Turvey et al.: "Imminent extinction in the wild of the world’s largest amphibian" , DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.04.005

Andrias davidianus (c) Pinterest (

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​Wonderful and worrying news at the same time. The Chinese giant salamanderwas (once) classified and considered just one species, under the scientific name of Andrias davidianus​. In a paper appeared just today on Current Biology shows that in reality this is an assemblage of species, five, or possibly, eight! This just indicates that the taxonomy of amphibians and many other animals in the world is still in a preliminary state and studies are extremely necessary. Not only to know the species living around us, but also, and hopefully, to protect them. All the recognised five species belonging to the genus Andrias from China are threatened and under risk of extinction. Not only for habitat alteration and food collecting, but also because the several populations, now recognised as putative species, have been translocated several times and put in conditions to accelerate hybridisation phenomena. This splitting in 5-8 species has been seen as surprising, and until now unrecognised due to the fact that the salamanders present similar morphology, while in reality they differentiated over the time in at least three major river systems, each splitting in several others. These basins likely caused a deep ecological and geographical divergence and genetical isolation, which led to speciation.

Current Biology, Turvey et al.: “Imminent extinction in the wild of the world’s largest amphibian” , DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.04.005

Andrias davidianus

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This year, 2018, it is just 30 years that I come in Madagascar. This is for studying and protecting amphibians and reptiles. The first year I came was just for holidays. It was really funny and interesting to devote myself to the study of a really peculiar herpetofauna! I came from Europe, where I was just studying newts, and Madagascar, with its plethora of frogs, treefrogs, lizards and snakes was a conspicuous heaven. At the same time, conservation problems were already known. Maybe not too "famous" for herps, but more or less on the same lines as those of lemurs and forests. My first visit was at Nosy Mangabe (see photo here attached: happy and with some more hair than now!). After that herp-holiday I repeated my travels to Madagascar so many times that I do not know the exact number of visits. I must say that this country has become my elected nation after Italy. Extraordinarily beautiful but suffering. Forests are disappearing at a very quick rate, people is even poorer and in much worst conditions than in the Eighties. During this period it has been so beautiful to discover many new species of frogs, lizards and snakes in company of colleagues and friends. But even more interesting and – I hope – useful, having acted for the conservation of Malagasy amphibians. With the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group we made and carried out several projects and formed young Malagasy herpetologists.

Franco Andreone

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When I passed in the Vohimana Forest, East Madagascar, I had the exceptional luck to find a considerable number of white-lipped treefogs, Boophis albilabris. This anuran is really particular since, first of all, it is large (up to 81 mm), and then because it shows a very variable colouration, passing from brown to green, with a number of irregular spots. The most interesting thing, or at least one of the most interesting ones, is that during the breeding season males develop pointed tubercles on the back, breast, underside of legs. Part of these tubercles form the so-called nuptial pads, which are used to embrace females during the amplexus. Then, B. albilabris aggregate along streams, especially when cyclones arrive. They are representatives of the so-called "explosive breeders": they mate in just 1-2 nights, when they become visible in hundreds of individuals, after which they disappear as they appeared, like ghosts. During these aggregations they emit low-frequency vocalizations and engage in real battles, with many males around just one female. In this they are somehow similar to what happens in Europe with the common toads Bufo bufo. In Vohimana I found several individuals, and they were really visible. Most likely this was due to the presence/arrival of cyclones, typical meteorological phenomena of the tropical area. In fact, a few days later the strong tropical storm Eliakim stroke Madagascar. Those beautiful Boophis were just ambassadors of its arrival.

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I was already in the Vohimana Forest around 30 years ago. It was one of the first raiforests that I ever visited. I was so amazed and so astonished by the beauty of the forest itself, and by the kindness of people living there. At that time the forest was simply called “an’ala”, that in Malagasy just means “the forest”. Under this name I published one of my first papers on the amphibians of Madagascar. In fact, during that visit I found two really beautiful Mantella species, living in syntopy. They were Mantella pulchra and Mantella baroni. At that time the ultimate and correct Latin name of pulchra was not known, and it was named as Mantella cowani pulchra. These two species lived (and still live) together and have very similar colourations. Incidentally they are both toxic, but they belong to two different phylogenettic clusters and are not so closely related. Mantella baroni has sharp colouration of the back, and scattered blue spots on the belly. Mantella pulchra has a much golden head, has a horse-shoe shaped throat bluish belly and reddish marks on the underside of the thighs. I assumed, in my scientific naivity, that they were a good example of Müllerian mimicry. Both toxic and with similar renforcing colouration. It has been with a sort of nostalgy that I visited again Vohimana (or “an’ala”), and I looked again at Mantella pulchra in the almost untouched habitat there. No, Mantella baroni I did not find it. I heard it but I wasn’t able to spot it (the photo that I put here is from another site “Amalonabe”, not so far). Vohimana appears as a beautiful forest, and is a really nice place where to carry out future herpetological studies and education activities.


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The Andasibe Forest where I am now hosts an incredible number of frogs. In Madagascar the endemic frogs and treefrogs are more than 420. Every time we pass in the forests of the large island we find new species. We have to struggle to describe them all: the problem is that most of them are so microendemic that the disappearance of one small forest fragment due to human activities can make disappear a distinct species, at a much accelerated rate. In Andasibe, Perinet, Analamazaotra, Maromizaha, Ambavaniasy and Vohimana the species number is much higher than 100. Their conservation is an imperative.

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The presentation of the co-chair of the IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group Madagascar, Andolalao Rakotoarison, occurred on the 7th March at the Espace OLEP at Ambatobe, Antananarivo. This was also the occasion to present the activities of the group for the conservation of the endemic frogs of Madagascar. Currently around 418 species are known for the Grand’Ile. Andolalao contributed to the implementation of this high number with the description of 26 new species of the miniaturised frog genus Stumpffia. The ASG will work to identify at least one site featured by the presence of a high number of species, and/or boosting the conservation of an iconic and threatened species, like Mantella cowanii. At the same time, great importance will be given to frog-oriented education. The ASG is collaborating actively with many other environmental institutions and ministerial authorities.

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