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These Sneaky Ensatina Salamanders Are Heading For a Family Split | Deep Look

By: Deep LookPublished: 1 week ago

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Ensatinas are a sprawling group of colorful salamanders, each one with different strategies for avoiding predators, from bold warning colors to confusing camouflage. Their diverse family tree offers us a rare snapshot of millions of years of evolution – how one species becomes many.

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Even though they sport different colors and behaviors, and are spread out across the Western coastal states, from Canada to Baja California, they are still considered one species. That is because all types of ensatinas are able to mate and have offspring with each of their neighbors.

But when researchers look more closely, the two types of ensatinas at the southern tips of their range — the Monterey ensatina and the large-blotched ensatina — only rarely mate and have offspring where their populations overlap. Some combination of genetic differences, habitat preference and behavior are keeping the lineages separate.

This makes ensatina salamanders a rare example of a “ring species” — an animal that spread and adapted around a geographic barrier — in this case, California’s dry Central Valley — only to come back together millions of years later as near strangers.

A ring species like the ensatina is unique in that it neatly illustrates the rich story of evolution — an idea that English biologist Charles Darwin and others have supported with countless studies since 1859, when Darwin published his landmark book “On the Origin of Species.”

Evolutionary scientists are looking at ensatinas to build on Darwin’s original ideas about how species form; and as a way to help understand biodiversity all across the planet.

---+ Are ensatina salamanders poisonous?
They can exude a slightly toxic milky substance from poison glands in their tails, but this substance is not dangerous to predators.

---+ What is the difference between a salamander and a newt?
Newts are a type of salamander, belonging to a subfamily called Pleurodelinae of the family Salamandridae. Most newts have webbed feet and a paddle-like tail, which make it easier to live in the water during the aquatic stages of their lives. Salamanders typically have longer and more rounded tails with well-developed toes for digging in soil.

---+ More info

Tom Devitt on ensatinas:
https://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/devitt_01

More Barry Sinervo's work here:

Lizards Have Been Playing Rock-Paper-Scissors for 15 Million Years”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rafdHxBwIbQ

---+ Read the entire article on KQED Science:

https://www.kqed.org/science/1966227/these-sneaky-ensatina-salamanders-are-heading-for-a-family-split

---+ Shoutout!

🏆Congratulations🏆 to the following five fans on our Community Tab for being the first to name all 3 newt species the ensatina mimics!

Mildred
Tara Damer
Tim Garcia
Noah K. Jones
LunarGaming54

(Taricha torosa - California newt, Taricha sierrae - Sierra newt, and Taricha granulosa - Rough-skinned newt.)

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