The largest species discovered in America for 100 years: Almost mythical beast’ – an eel with the spots of a leopard – found and named the ‘reticulated siren’
- The creature looks like it’s covered in blue and black leopard print, with frilly gills
- Researchers spent nearly a decade searching for it after hearing of its existence
- It’s native to the swamps of Florida’s Panhandle and southern Alabama region
Scientists have discovered a two foot long ‘mythical beast’ in Florida with the spots of a leopard and the body of an eel.
The creature is a new species of salamander – and has been named the ‘reticulated siren’.
Native to the swamps of Florida’s Panhandle and southern Alabama, the creature looks like it’s covered in blue and black leopard print, with frilly gills attached to its face.
Two researchers spent nearly a decade searching for the creature after one heard the legend of an ‘leopard eel’ around a campfire in 2001.
The living legend: The reticulated siren, native to the swamps of Florida’s Panhandle and southern Alabama, looks like it’s covered in blue and black leopard print, with frilly gills
David Steen, a wildlife ecologist at the Georgia Sea Turtle Centre who documented the discovery in the journal PLOS ONE told National Geographic: ‘It was basically this mythical beast.’
Unlike most salamanders, sirens have lost their hindlimbs through millions of years of evolution.
Sirens lack eyelids and sport tiny, horny beaks instead of teeth.
The new species is one of the largest creatures to be described in the United States in over 100 years.
Dr Steen said it took about five years of searching ponds and waterways in the Florida panhandle before they could come up with enough specimens to describe the species.
‘What immediately jumps out about the reticulated siren that makes it so different from currently-recognized species is its dark and reticulated [or net-like] pattern,’ says Steen.
‘It also seems as though they have a disproportionally-smaller head, as compared to other sirens.’
Long time coming: The new species of salamander is one of the largest creatures found in the United States in over 100 years – and was previously considered a mythical legend
Evolved: Unlike most salamanders, sirens have lost their hindlimbs through millions of years of evolution. Sirens lack eyelids and sport tiny, horny beaks instead of teeth
Conversely, earlier this year, in May, it was reported that demand for exotic food has pushed the Chinese giant salamander, the world’s largest amphibian, to the brink of extinction in the wild.
The ancient creatures, which date back 170 million years, have all but disappeared from their traditional freshwater habitats, say researchers.
Giant salamanders have been depicted in Chinese culture for thousands of years, but in recent times have become a highly coveted delicacy among the super rich.
To satisfy growing demand, the amphibians – which grow up to six feet (1.8 metres) long – are routinely harvested from the wild to stock commercial breeding farms.
As a result, scientists have warned the creatures are in ‘catastrophic’ decline, with possibly only a handful left in the wild.
WHAT IS THE CHINESE GIANT SALAMANDER?
The Chinese giant salamander is the world’s largest amphibian and can grow up to six feet (1.8 metres) in length.
It has been described as a ‘living fossil’ as its appearance has barely changed since the Jurassic period.
Although it is one of the world’s oldest species – dating back more than 170 million years – there are few surviving populations of giant salamander left in the wild.
This photo taken on September 24, 2015 shows Chinese giant salamanders on display at a food festival in Zhangjiajie, central China’s Hunan province
The giant salamander is listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and a protected species in China.
Despite its status as an endangered species, it is still regarded a delicacy among China’s super rich.
The giant salamander is listed as ‘critically endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List
The salamander population has declined drastically over the last 30 years due to poaching and destruction of its habitat.
In 2015, Chinese officials were investigated for reportedly eating a giant salamander at a luxury banquet in Shenzhen.
A government crackdown means that anyone found to be eating endangered species could receive a jail sentence of up to ten years.
It is believed by some that the salamander has anti-ageing benefits, although there is no scientific evidence to support this.
The giant salamander holds a treasured place in Chinese mythology and is called ‘wa wa yu’ – or ‘baby fish’ – in Chinese because its distress call sounds like the cry of a baby.
In the past the amphibian could grow to more than 6 feet (1.8 metres) in length and over 50 kilograms (110lbs) in weight, but due to wild harvesting most salamanders today are much smaller.