Lungs present, but reduced. Vomerine teeth in two short and widely separated series.
Premaxillary fontanelle present. Parotoids and costal grooves well-developed. Toes five. Body robust. Parotoids
clearly visible. Labial fold flat, usually absent or reduced, sometimes developed. Eyes large. On each side of the
body there are 11-13 costal grooves. Coloration is yellow-brownish to dark olive and grey-greenish; some individuals have a
dark-spotted pattern on dark-olive background. Coloration changes depending on the environment. Aquatic adults
may be darker than terrestrial individuals; coloration of the latter becomes lighter also with an increase of
temperature. The tail is laterally flat, or "sword shaped", slightly longer or more or less equal to body length, slightly tapering on the tip.
Males have a relatively higher and longer tail than females; during the reproductive period the male caudal fin fold is
much higher and with a few undulations. The legs and head are more robust in males. Sexual differences are more
pronounced during the reproductive period.
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: China, Kazakhstan
The salamander is documented only from the mountain system of the
Junggarian Alatau in Southern Kazakhstan and North-Western Xinjiang. In Kazakhstan, the species is certainly
known only from 27 localities in the western, central and southern periphery of the Junggarian Alatau and its
spurs. The distribution is associated mainly with relic mountain coniferous forests (or the areas where the forests
have existed in the past), connected with the alpine, subalpine, forest-meadow and
forest-meadow-steppe belts. There it lives in the headwaters of small mountain streams and brooks. All the
localities occupy flat plateaus with a dense network of permanent streams.
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
The salamanders inhabit cool brooks (summer temperatures ca. +5 - +18oC), where the density may attain several dozens of individuals per 100 m. However, usually the density is much lower, and in general it is a very rare species.
Aquatic prey comprises 35.9-73.8% of the adult food items. This corresponds to the fact that adults spend a considerable part of their life in water.
Their hibernation takes place from the end of September or the beginning of October to the end of April or the beginning of June, depending on altitude.
Reproduction occurs soon after the snow and ice melt. It extends from the end of April to the beginning of August. Ranodon sibiricus tends to reproduce in stream sources or in small brooks at the same sites year after year. The clutch consists of a pair of egg sacs connected to each other by a mucous stalk which serves to attach the clutch to a stone. Each sac usually contains 38-53 eggs.
Larvae overwinter, and become completely developed with brownish claws. Larvae are generally of the rheophilous type, preferring flowing water habitat, but have a more robust body than "typical brook" larvae.
The larvae probably hibernate for more than one year; their development is slow. The main food of larvae consists of stream invertebrates, but stagnant water prey are also consumed regularly.
Trends and Threats
There is continuing constriction of the range of Ranodon sibiricus, whose current distribution is estimated as about 160 square kilometers. Suitable habitats are not numerous on the Junggarian Alatau, but
the salamander was proved to be absent even from many of these. It has been hypothesized that the ancestors of
the genus Ranodon were lowland salamanders with pond-type larvae, which were shifted to mountains by the
overall aridization of the lowlands of Kazakhstan in the Cenozoic. On the other hand, the larvae of R. sibiricus are
not typical "brook-type" larvae. These ancestral, "underdeveloped" adaptations to life in brooks, together with
some biological peculiarities (high site-fidelity, low rate of population turnover, and specialization to habitat)
may represent an important constraint for the successful dispersal of the Semirechensk Salamander in steep and
swift mountain streams. Populations of R. sibiricus live on the periphery of the mountain system of the Junggarian
Alatau, not penetrating inwards, which supports this idea of a constraint. This, in turn, should increase the vulnerability of
this species in the changing environment and result in its extinction from vast areas, where former lowland pond
habitats have become unavailable, whereas mountain brook habitats have not become fully available as yet. Range
constriction in historical time evidently result mainly from anthropogenic factors, such as destruction of forests
by people and cattle, landscape amelioration, collecting salamanders for commercial and scientific purposes, and
the local practices of fishing. Use of this species in Chinese traditional medicine seems to have led to the extinction of
many populations in Kazakhstan and, evidently, almost total extinction of the species in Xinjiang.
Relation to Humans
The species does not form populations in human settlements. However, the adult
salamanders display high site-fidelity, and have been seen in polluted brooks and in areas destroyed by cattle.
This increases the species vulnerability. Sometimes the salamanders are collected for scientific aims and pet trade
(illegally). In the past, they were also collected for Chinese traditional medicine.
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Intensified agriculture or grazing
The species is in the worst condition among all the amphibians of the former Soviet Union. It
needs immediate and effective measures for conservation. Without creation of a special nature reserve, it may become
extinct in the near future.
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Originally submitted by: Sergius L. Kuzmin (first posted 1999-09-13)
Edited by: Kellie Whittaker, Michelle S. Koo (2022-11-13)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2022 Ranodon sibiricus: Semirechensk Salamander <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/3910> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed May 29, 2023.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2023. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 29 May 2023.
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