Description Neurergus kaiseri reaches 131 mm in total length, making it the smallest species of Neurergus (Sharifi et al. 2008b). N. kaiseri has a distinctive, spectacular coloration, with a long narrow yellow or orange-red dorsal stripe overlaying bleached white (spots or a continuous band) on a black background (Sharifi et al. 2008b; Olsson 2009). The venter is whitish (Sharifi et al. 2008b) or orange-red, and may have black markings (Olsson 2009). A large white patch between the eyes narrows as it reaches the snout tip (Sharifi et al. 2008b). Behind each orbit is a yellow blotch which runs toward the jaw (Sharifi et al. 2008b). Legs have orange-red, black, and white markings.
During breeding season, the male cloaca is similar in shape and turgidity to those of other species of Neurergus and breeding Triturus (Sparreboom et al. 2000). The cloaca in breeding females has a tubular extension of about 10 mm (Sparreboom et al. 2000).
Endemic to Iran, in the southern Zagros Mountains. Known from only a few remote mountainous localities in Lorestan Province: a stream in the area surrounding Shahbazan (750-1,250 m above sea level); Tale Zang stream (1,500-2,000 m above sea level) (Sharifi et al. 2008a; Sharifi et al. 2008b); Hajbarikab stream (Barani et al. submitted 2009); and Shahzade Ahmad stream (Barani et al. submitted 2009). This area has very rough topography with a hot summer, a winter with little to no freezing and just a few days of snow, and 500 mm of annual precipitation (Sharifi et al. 2008; Olsson 2009). The rainy season occurs mainly in January/February (Sharifi et al. 2008b).
Terrestrial habitat includes open woodlands (oak-pistachio forest, on various soil types such as deep sandy loam on valley bottoms or gravelly soils on valley slopes) (Sharifi et al. 2008b). Aquatic habitat varies but tends to be the smaller, slower part of the stream with sand or pebble substrate, less frequently in areas with gravel, cobble, or boulder substrate (Sharifi et al. 2008b). In the area below the Tale Zang waterfall, the stream transitions from a first-order stream to a medium-sized river; there N. kaiseri is found far less frequently, and then only on the fringe of the watercourse where strong currents do not occur (Sharifi et al. 2008b). This species inhabits streams with less vegetative cover than does N. microspilotus, which occurs in a different part of the Zagros Range (Sharifi et al. 2008b).
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors N. kaiseri is a stream-breeder, as are the other species in the genus Neurergus (Schmidtler and Schmidtler 1975; Steinfartz 2002). It is found more frequently in the quieter sections and pools of the stream (Sharifi et al. 2008b; Sharifi, pers. comm.).
Courtship takes place on land close to the water, with females entering the water to deposit eggs (Rastegar-Pouyani 2003). Detailed observations have been made of courtship behavior in newly wild-caught N. kaiseri (Sparreboom et al. 2000). The male approaches the female slowly and positions himself in front of the female, approximately facing her. He begins tail-fanning in short bouts. When the female signals receptivity by moving towards him, the male steps backward and then turns so that he is creeping ahead of the female, quivering his tail-base rapidly and undulating his tail in agitated movements. The female follows quite closely, touching the male's tail periodically. She may undulate or slowly fan her own tail while following the male. The male will stop moving and undulating but will resume when the female touches his tail. After a number of tail-touches, the male deposits a spermatophore, with his tail slightly raised and slowly undulating in a horizontal plane. He creeps forward more slowly, with the female following and keeping her snout against the lower part of his tail. The male then folds his slowly moving tail against one side of his body, waving the tail-tip occasionally over his back, and slowly turns to a right-angle with the female. He then stops, which brakes the female at about one body-length past the spermatophore, so that her cloaca is situated approximately above where the spermatophore was deposited. After braking, the male may resume creeping in a slightly different direction (and may possibly deposit more spermatophores; other Neurergus species were observed to do this, but it is not clear whether N. kaiseri will deposit multiple spermatophores), or may resume tail-fanning (Sparreboom et al. 2000).
In N. kaiseri, male tail-fanning is done mainly with the distal third of the tail, resulting in a motion with smaller amplitude than is observed for tail-fanning in the other three species of Neurergus (N. crocatus, N. microspilotus, N. strauchii) (Sparreboom et al. 2000). Females also sometimes display with their tails. Both N. kaiseri and N. strauchii females occasionally display the "static flamenco" behavior after spermatophore pick-up, where the female holds her tail up and stretches it (Sparreboom et al. 2000). The significance of this display is not known, but it has also been described for Ichthyosaura alpestris (Denoël 1996).
The female deposits eggs singly in the water, on rough surfaces such as stones, away from the light but not always on the underside (Sparreboom et al. 2000; Rastegar-Pouyani 2003). Egg deposition has also been reported to occur in small clumps as well as singly on aquatic vegetation or rocks (Sharifi et al. 2008b). Neurergus larvae metamorphose in about two months in the wild (Rastegar-Pouyani 2003). Both the breeding period and larval development period are considerably shorter for N. kaiseri, which relies on water resources with unstable availability, than for the other Neurergus stream-breeding species (Schmidtler and Schmidtler 1975).
Migration has not been observed, but Sharifi et al. (2008b) found very few female specimens from March 26-29, 2003, implying that migration from winter hiding places to their aquatic breeding habitat had not been completed by the end of March. Lifespan in the wild is not known, but in captivity N. kaiseri is reported to live at least 6-8 years (Olsson 2009).
Trends and Threats This species has declined significantly in the past 10 years (Sharifi et al. 2008a). It occurs in only a handful of localities and the wild population is thought to now number less than 1000 (Sharifi et al. 2008b). It is threatened by illegal collecting for the pet trade (Sharifi et al. 2008a, Sharifi et al. 2008b). Habitat is severely fragmented (Sharifi et al. 2008b); these newts require complex landscapes with both good-quality aquatic and terrestrial habitat, and connecting corridors enabling migration between the two habitat types (Rastegar-Pouyani 2003). Other threats include destruction of highland stream habitat and predation on salamander eggs and larvae by introduced cyprinid fish (Barbus sp.) (Sharifi et al. 2008b). Dams may facilitate the dispersal of river fish to streams where they would not otherwise be expected, as Barbus have been sighted at the base of Tale Zang waterfall, in N. kaiseri habitat (Sharifi et al. 2008a, Sharifi pers. comm.). Given the rapid decline of this species (in less than ten years), conservation measures should be undertaken immediately and further research is urgently needed to quantify the population size (Sharifi et al. 2008a).
A captive breeding program is in place at the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, which now has hundreds of surplus captive-bred N. kaiseri. The Sedgwick County Zoo has found that captive N. kaiseri will breed in both moving water and still water systems, and juveniles have been raised successfully in both aquatic and terrestrial environments (N. Nelson, pers. comm.). An in-situ captive breeding program may possibly be undertaken at Razi University in Iran, which has conducted field surveys of Iranian Neurergus and which has successfully bred the related species N. microspilotus using artificial streams (M. Sharifi and T. Papenfuss, pers. comm.).
Captive husbandry guidelines for Neurergus kaiseri (Olsson 2009) have been posted to Amphibian Ark and are available on the Amphibian Ark download page in .pdf format.
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
Dams changing river flow and/or covering habitat Habitat fragmentation Predators (natural or introduced) Intentional mortality (over-harvesting, pet trade or collecting)
Neurergus kaiseri has become the first example of a species granted international protection due to e-commerce. As of March 21, 2010, N. kaiseri is protected under Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), which bans export/import of this species. N. kaiseri occurs in only four streams in the southern Zagros Mountains in Iran, and after 10 years of decline, fewer than 1,000 individuals remain in the wild. Specimens have been exported to European countries and to Japan, in violation of Iranian law (see Proposal 14 on Neurergus kaiseri, submitted to the 2010 CoP15 meeting, available online).