© 2015 Dr. Peter Janzen (1 of 32)
Diagnosis: Small to moderately-sized salamander (males 26-57 mm SL, females 38-67 mm SL); moderate digital webbing; adults with 45-57 maxillary teeth; moderately long tail; high color variation (dorsum may be brown to light gray to black; mottling present or not; sometimes brick red to yellow middorsal field; often pink or red limbs and throat; venter may be brown with darker markings to black with sparse white spots).
Description: Bolitoglossa pesrubra is a common small to medium-sized species with moderate digital webbing. Adults are 60 to 131 mm in total length. Adult males measure 26 to 57 mm in standard length, while adult females measure 38 to 67 mm in standard length. Tail length is moderate, measuring about 49 to 51% of total length. Eyes are large and protruding. Adults have 45 to 65 maxillary teeth, extending to 3/4 the length of the eye, and 21 to 33 vomerine teeth. Adult males have 0 to 2 1/2 costal folds between adpressed limbs, while adult females have 1 to 3. Hands and feet are moderately webbed, with at least two phalanges on the longest two or three digits free of webbing. Subterminal pads are present. Head width is 14 to 17% of standard length, and leg length is 22 to 25% of standard length (Savage 2002).
Dorsal ground color varies from shiny brown to light gray to black, with or without dark brown to black mottling, or sometimes black with light spots. Paler areas are often reddish or pinkish. A broad brick-red to yellow middorsal field is sometimes present. Limbs and throat will often be pink or red. Venter may be brown with darker markings to black with scattered white spots or blotches (Savage 2002).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Costa Rica
This is the only species of salamander currently known from the seasonally dry páramos of Central America (Kappelle and Savage 2005), though other salamander species have been found in South American páramo (e.g., Bolitoglossa hiemalis from Colombia (Lynch 2001).
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Egg clutches are made up of 13 to 38 eggs. Each egg measures about 5 mm in diameter and is surrounded by a vitelline membrane plus two gelatinous layers. In higher-elevation populations, on the continental divide in the Cordillera de Talamanca, clutches are laid under rocks and logs. Females from lower-elevation also make use of bromeliads or other plants with suitably large axils for clutch deposition sites. Clutch attendance is generally done by females but Vial (1968) found that in about thirteen percent of cases (four of thirty-one) the male tended the clutch. The parent attending the clutch coils around the eggs with the head and throat resting on top of the egg mass, and rotates the eggs every few days. Attendance is nearly continuous over the four to five months of embryonic development. Unattended clutches fail to develop. Development is direct (Vial 1968).
In the wild, individuals are estimated to grow slowly, about 3 mm per year, and to reach sexual maturity at 6 years for males and 12 years for females (Vial 1968). Under captive conditions, however, growth can be up to 5x as fast, with males reaching sexual maturity in about 1.5 years and females maturing at 3 years (Houck 1982). Prey availability may be the reason for the differing growth rates in captivity vs. the wild (Savage 2002). Longevity has been estimated to be about 18 years (Vial 1968).
In a six-month study (Vial 1968, as B. subpalmata), the species was found not to be very vagile; distances away from original capture sites ranged from 0.1 m to 50 m. Juveniles moved an average of 2.8 m, while females moved an average of 3.7 m and males moved an average of 5.4 m. Home ranges were 44 sq m on average (Savage 2002).
Population densities at high elevations are some of the highest recorded for salamanders; 9,297 individuals/ha at 3,200 m (Vial 1968). Densities are lower at lower elevations; at 2,438 m the population density dropped to 756/ha (Vial 1968). Population density also varied seasonally, with higher densities noted in the rainy months (May-November) and lower densities in the driest month (March).
This species is apparently toxic to predators; Thamnophis snakes were observed to be incapacitated or in serious discomfort after consuming B. pesrubra salamanders (Brodie et al. 1991). Tail displays are also used as a defense against predators, though this species rarely sheds its tail when seized by snakes (Ducey and Brodie 1991; Ducey et al. 1993). There are no snakes at the higher elevations occupied by B. pesrubra, and B. pesrubra salamanders from higher elevations were less likely to make tail displays when threatened (Ducey and Brodie 1991; Ducey et al. 1993).
Analysis of mitochondrial cytochrome b sequences showed strong phylogeographic structure among B. pesrubra populations, with three distinct phylogeographic units: Villa Mills, Sakira, and Salsipuedes (García-Paris et al. 2000). Average population heterozygosity for B. pesrubra is exceptionally high for vertebrates, at 0.23–0.28 (Hanken and Wake 1982). This is likely due to the combination of a nonmigratory life history (direct terrestrial development with no need to migrate to a water source), low vagility, small home ranges, and high philopatry (García-Paris et al. 2000).
Trends and Threats
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
This species was first described by Taylor (1952), as B. pesrubra, and subsumed into B. subpalmata by Vial (1966); much of the literature on this species is under B. subpalmata. It was separated again from B. subpalmata by García-París et al. (2000). The taxon now considered B. pesrubra may still represent several species (Stuart et al. 2008).
The karyotype is 2N=26, NF (nombre fundamental, the number of chromosome arms)=52; all chromosomes are biarmed. No heteromorphism is present in sex chromosomes of this species (Kezer 1964; León and Kezer 1978).
A Spanish-language species account can be found at the website of Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INBio).
Brodie, E. D. Jr., Ducey, P. K., and Baness, E. A. (1991). ''Antipredator skin secretions of some tropical salamanders (Bolitoglossa) are toxic to snake predators.'' Biotropica, 23, 58-62.
Ducey, P. K., Brodie, E. D. Jr., and Baness, E. A. (1993). ''Salamander tail autotomy and snake predation: Role of antipredator behavior and toxicity in three species of Neotropical Bolitoglossa (Caudata: Plethodontidae).'' Biotropica, 25, 344-349.
Ducey, P. K., and Brodie, E. D. Jr. (1991). ''Evolution of antipredator behavior: individual and population variation in a Neotropical salamander.'' Herpetologica, 47(89-95).
García-París, M., Good, D. A., Parra-Olea, G., and Wake, D. B. (2000). ''Biodiversity of Costa Rican salamanders: Implications of high levels of genetic differentiation and phylogeographic structure for species formation .'' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97, 1640-1647.
Hanken, J. and Wake, D. B. (1982). ''Genetic differentiation among plethodontid salamanders (genus Bolitoglossa in Central and South America: implications for the South American invasion .'' Herpetologica, 38, 272-287.
Houck, L. D. (1982). ''Growth rates and age at maturity for the plethodontid salamander Bolitoglossa subpalmata.'' Copeia, 1982, 474-478.
Kappelle, M., and Savage, J. M. (2005). ''Anfibios y reptiles de los páramos y sus alrededores en Costa Rica.'' Páramos de Costa Rica. M. Kappelle and S. Horn, eds., INBio, Heredia, Costa Rica, 512-517.
Kezer, J. (1964). ''Meiosis in salamander spermatocytes.'' The Mechanism of Inheritance. F. W. Stahl, eds., , 101-112.
León, P., and Kezer, J. (1978). ''The localization of 5S RNA genes on chromosomes of plethodontid salamanders.'' Chromosoma, 65, 213-230.
Lips, K. R., and Donnelly, M. A. (2005). ''What the tropics can tell us about declining amphibian populations: Current patterns and future prospects.'' North American Amphibians: Status and Conservation. M. J. Lannoo, eds., University of California Press, Berkeley, 388–406.
Lynch, J. D. (2001). ''A small amphibian fauna from a previously unexplored paramo of the Cordillera Occidental in Western Colombia.'' Journal of Herpetology, 35, 226-231.
Lötters, S., Kielgast, J., Bielby, J., Schmidtlein, S., Bosch, J., Veith, M., Walker, S. F., Fisher, M. C., and Rödder, D. (2010). ''The link between rapid enigmatic amphibian decline and the globally emerging chytrid fungus.'' Ecohealth, doi: 10.1007/s10393-010-0281-6.
Mead, L. S., and Boback, S. (2002). ''Diet and microhabitat utilization of two sympatric Neotropical salamanders: Bolitoglossa pesrubra and B. cerroensis.'' Herpetological Natural History, 9, 135-140.
Pounds, J. A., Fogden, M. P. L., Savage, J. M., and Gorman, G. C. (1997). "Tests of null models for amphibian declines on a tropical mountain." Conservation Biology, 11(6), 1307-1322.
Savage, J. M. (2002). The Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica. University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
Stuart, S., Hoffmann, M., Chanson, J., Cox, N., Berridge, R., Ramani, P., and Young, B. (eds) (2008). Threatened Amphibians of the World. Lynx Edicions, IUCN, and Conservation International, Barcelona, Spain; Gland, Switzerland; and Arlington, Virginia, USA.
Taylor, E.H. (1952). "A review of the frogs and toads of Costa Rica." University of Kansas Science Bulletin, 35, 577-942.
Vial, J. L. (1966). ''The taxonomic status of two Costa Rican salamanders of the genus Bolitoglossa.'' Copeia, 1966(4), 669-673.
Vial, J. L. (1968). ''The ecology of the tropical salamander, Bolitoglossa subpalmata, in Costa Rica.'' Revista de Biologia Tropical, 15, 13-115.
Written by David Chen (davidchen AT berkeley.edu), University of California, Berkeley
First submitted 2009-11-04
Edited by Kellie Whittaker (2010-05-20)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2010 Bolitoglossa pesrubra <http://amphibiaweb.org/species/5343> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Nov 14, 2018.
Feedback or comments about this page.
Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2018. <http://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 14 Nov 2018.
AmphibiaWeb's policy on data use.