Southern Sichuan Crocodile Newt
Species Description: Hou M, Li P, Lu S 2012 Morphological research development of genus Tylototriton and primary confirmation of the status of four cryptic species (in Chinese). J Huangshan Univ 14:61-65. (authors of name: Hou, Gu, Zhang, Zeng, Li and Lu).
© 2015 Axel Hernandez (1 of 1)
Author: Axel Hernandez
Tylototriton pseudoverrucosus HOU, GU, ZHANG, ZENG, LI, & LÜ 2012
Diagnosis and taxonomyThe original description of Tylototriton pseudoverrucosus by HOU et al. (2012) is rather brief and based on a holotype (SYNU HM20110901-NT001) and one paratype that were collected in 2011 in Ningnan County in southern Sichuan Province, China. This species is very close both genetically and morphologically to T. taliangensis, and for this reason placed within the subgenus Liangshantriton as well. Males can reach a maximum of 17.3 and females 20 cm TL; males have longer tails than females (128 - 129 % SVL). The species exhibits following characteristics: a black coloration; a prominent red cephalic ridge; head reddish, depressed and longer than broad; muzzle square; vertebral ridge orange; 12 - 15 dorsolateral glandular warts reddish orange and indistinct; skin rough; tail orange, long and thin and longer than the SVL, longer in the male than in the female. Males furthermore have longer frontlegs, appear slimmer, and their cloaca forms a rounded cone. Females are more robust in build and grow to greater total lengths. They also exhibit an altogether brighter orange coloration especially during the breeding season.
DistributionThe southern Sichuan crocodile newt is known from only one area in the Sichuan Basin, i.e., from Ningnan County in the Daliang Mountains, China. Exact type and other locality data have been kept secret for conservation purposes.
Habitat, ethology and ecologyThis species is ecologically conservative and microendemic to fragile environments at high elevations that have so far largely been spared anthropogenic modifications. According to my field observations in July of 2015, the southern Sichuan crocodile newt is a scarce urodele at only two known localities in grassland surrounded by shrub forest and two large permanent ponds that are used during the breeding season. These ponds were situated at 2,340 m a.s.l., measured approximately 20 x 20 m with a depth of 20 to 30 cm, and contained clear water with a pH of 7.2. They were co-inhabited by anuran tadpoles. Air temperature at this time of the year was 14.6 °C with a relative humidity of 88 %. The surroundings were mainly composed of clay soil and rocks, overgrown with low grasses, shrubs and small trees. According to FEI et al. (2012), this species occurs at high elevations of between 2,300 and 2,800 m a.s.l., where winters are cold with snow, and average temperatures of 5.0 °C were recorded at the surveyed locality in 2014. The species is usually diurnal during the breeding season, but nocturnal for the rest of the year. It predated on small insects such as Corbicula fluminea, frog tadpoles, and aquatic mollusks in the ponds. Its terrestrial diet is as yet unknown.
ReproductionThe adults congregate in marshy puddles and pools later in the year than other species. The author witnessed several mating events in the wild on 13 July 2015. Sometimes two or three males would follow a female and try to grasp the female with their forelimbs in a Pleurodeles-style amplexus (comp. T. verrucosus). Oviposition takes place in June/July at 14.0 °C, with the eggs being deposited one by one in the water or outside. The larvae will stay in the water for 6 to 10 months before they metamorphose, matching those of T. taliangensis in this regard. In captivity, ZHANG (pers. comm.) observed an amplexus between T. taliangensis and T. pseudoverrucosus.
Status, threats and conservationThe species is restricted to a small area that suffers from human activities such as expansion of agriculture, livestock farming, and hydropower development, and there have numerous natural disasters such as mud- and landslides in the past years. The result is that its populations have been declining fast, rendering this species scarce and endangered. At present, there are eleven nature reserves across the Daliang Mts. and this species seems to be present in several of them. One major problem is the extensive collection of firewood, which, together with an increasing demand for land for grazing and agriculture, has led to the widespread clearing and degradation of natural habitats in many areas. A high demand for forest products such as bamboo shoots and medicinal herbs attracts people from outside the region and causes massive disturbances and overexploitation at certain times of the year. Economic developments in the wider region have also increased the demand for electricity and natural resources such as coal and minerals that all have encroachment and pollution effects. An increased wealth of the people in many parts of China has led to a rise in tourism, and this adds further pressures to beautiful areas like the Liang Shan.
This species has been afforded Status-II protection in China, as has T. taliangensis, and FEI et al. (2012) proposed its threat status be upgraded to “Endangered”. I even suggest it to be regarded as “Critically Endangered” because of the paucity of specimens that were found during the last decade and its small and fragmented habitat.
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