If you live in the Appalachian region of the U.S., you may not have realized you're in one of the most unusual ecosystems in the world. This mountainous land, ribboned by streams, is home to the world's most diverse salamander population. But you'd never know that just by looking.
Many salamanders, as we discover in this fantastic video from the Smithsonian, live hidden, subterranean lives. And they are perfectly adapted to the wet landscape and shallow streams of the Appalachians. Fish can't swim in these shallow bodies of water, which is why they're perfect for amphibious salamanders — who look like a colorful cross between frogs and lizards, and are pretty much as adorable as you can get.
Though salamanders survived the mass extinction that wiped out most of the dinosaurs, their habitats are in peril today. And losing these wiggly little creatures would be a blow not just to the Appalachians, but to humanity as well. As one of the researchers in this video points out, salamanders have an incredible superpower: They have permeable skin in an environment that's packed with deadly fungus and bacteria, and yet they are able to fend off infection from most of them. What is it that allows salamanders to thrive with such fragile skin? Could we discover some incredible antibiotic properties of salamander skin that we could convert into therapies? We'll never know if we don't preserve these amphibians' habitats in the Appalachians.
Of the 550 known salamander species in the world, 77 can be found in this mountainous area, more than any other one region in the world. Many of them can only be found there. But this global hotspot of salamander diversity is in danger, according to the National Zoo; global warming, which dries salamanders’ naturally wet habitats, and water pollution are the two biggest threats.
Read more via the Smithsonian