Images of the fossil salamander in amber, Palaeoplethodon, alongside a modern plethodontid salamander. The close resemblance suggests that Palaeoplethodon is a lungless animal, whose closest relatives lived nearby in North America.

News Bite: Salamanders of the Caribbean!

Arrr, ye mateys! Pour out some grog, and I’ll tell ye a tale of mines, beaches, and death in ancient jungles. I of course be talkin’…about salamanders!

Okay, not going to do that voice the whole time (though maybe it should be in the episode), but I will briefly present Palaeoplethodon hispaniolae, the first salamander in amber and the first ever found in the Caribbean! This discovery was spearheaded by George Poinar, Jr of Oregon State University (http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2015/aug/first-ever-discovery-salamander-amber-sheds-light-evolution-caribbean-islands) and David Wake of University of California Berkeley.

A map modified from Wikimedia indicating the location of Hispaniola, the island on which Palaeoplethodon was discovered. Hispaniola is today the location of the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
A map modified from Wikimedia indicating the location of Hispaniola, the island on which Palaeoplethodon was discovered. Hispaniola is today the location of the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The Caribbean is home to many fossil sites that preserve amber, and Palaeoplethodon comes from a mine on the island of Hispaniola. Its age is a mystery, unfortunately, but it confirms without doubt that salamanders did live in the Caribbean some time in the past…a place where they do not exist today. We still have many mysteries to solve about how salamanders got to these islands and why they are not there any more…

Check out the scientific paper in the journal Palaeodiversity at http://www.palaeodiversity.org/pdf/08/03Palaeodiversity_8-15_Poinar-Wake_4.pdf for more pictures and data!

Artwork by Dr. George Poinar, Jr. of the Palaeopethodon specimen in life.
Artwork by Dr. George Poinar, Jr. of the Palaeoplethodon specimen in life.

Filed under: Caribbean, Palaeoplethodon, amber, dinosaur, evolution, fossil, island, mines, salamander, science

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