Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the October 29, 2017 Newsletter issued from Rancho Regensis north of Valladolid, Yucatán, MÉXICO
BLACK-AND-GOLD SALAMANDER

cf. Black-and-Gold Salamander, BOLITOGLOSSA MEXICANA

The Yucatan is poor salamander-hunting ground because the climate is too arid; salamanders need moist environments. Farther south in Chiapas, Belize and Guatemala a handful of salamander species turn up, but according to distribution descriptions in Jonathan Campbell's Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the Yucatán, and Belize, only one salamander species might appear in the northern Yucatan, and it's hardly ever recorded.

So, after two weeks of absence during the late rainy season, when plants grow at their absolute lustiest, I was hacking my way through the garden, hoping to enforce some order. The tall grass was wet despite no rain having fallen for 48 hours. Imagine my surprise when my hoe took down a big clump of Tropical Panicgrass, and there on the black, sodden soil where the grass had stood lay the salamander shown at the top of this page.

Expecting the little critter to bolt at any moment, I was surprised to get that picture. However, he didn't move at all, until I got into position for a second photo, which shows nothing extra, but which I provide here just because this is such a special sighting. The superfluous image appears below:

cf. Black-and-Gold Salamander, BOLITOGLOSSA MEXICANA

Actually, the little fellow acted a little stunned. Maybe the hoe had jostled him around, or maybe the coolish air -- at 62° (17°C) it was the chilliest morning we've had since maybe early March or so -- made him sluggish. Whatever the cause, he gave me time for a shot at his pensive-looking face, shown below:

cf. Black-and-Gold Salamander, BOLITOGLOSSA MEXICANA, head

Then he moved away, and I didn't feel right pestering him any more for more pictures.

Despite so few species possibly occurring in the northern Yucatan, I'm uncertain which species this is. I'm guessing that it's the Black-and-Gold Salamander, BOLITOGLOSSA MEXICANA, only because according to Campbell's distribution notes that's the one most likely to appear here, a single record having been reported of one from near Chichén Itzá.

Campbell's picture of the species shows a boldly patterned individual very unlike ours, but he says that sometimes "the pale dorsal pattern is reduced to small yellow spots on a dark background," which comes close to ours, except that our spots are silvery, not yellow. In general appearance our salamander is colored more like the Common Dwarf Salamander, Bolitoglossa rufescens, but Campbell has that species entirely absent from the Yucatan. Well, Campbell's book is a bit outdated, so maybe someone with more current information can help.

Campbell describes the Black-and-Gold Salamander occurrence as from southern Veracruz on southern Mexico's Gulf Coast through northern Guatemala and Belize to northern Honduras, "...exclusive of most of the northern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula; there is a single record from near Chichén-Itzá." The species is reported as spending dry periods hiding in wet axils of bromeliads or in rotten logs. Our dry seasons are so long -- most of the year -- and hot that it's hard imagining bromeliads holding water for them, or rotten logs not completely drying out.

This salamander's appearance in our shaggy garden is the most exciting observations I've made in a long time.