Chinese salamander tops "weirdest" amphibian list

2008-01-23 00:10:52 Xinhua English

BEIJING, Jan. 23 (Xinhuanet) -- Blind salamanders, legless amphibians with tentacles on their heads and ghost frogs whose favorite haunt is a human burial ground are just a few of the world's weirdest and 10 most endangered amphibians creatures, according to the Zoological Society of London.

Amphibians that made the EDGE Amphibian conservation and fundraising list are considered by the society to be the most evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered, aka EDGE, species. They have few close relatives in the tree of life and are genetically unique, along with being on the verge of extinction.

"These animals may not be cute and cuddly, but hopefully their weird looks and bizarre behaviors will inspire people to support their conservation," said Helen Meredith, EDGE Amphibians conservationist in England.

Species that are evolutionarily distinct are one of a kind, said Arne Mooers of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

"We can't afford to lose these ones, because they are so different from everything else," said Mooers, who works with scientists as part of the EDGE of Existence program. "If we lose these, then we lose a big chunk of the total variation," he said, referring to overall biodiversity.

The alien-looking amphibians come in all sizes, from the Chinese giant salamander to the Gardiner's Seychelles frog that's smaller than a thumb nail, and in all colors, including the Malagasy rainbow frog and the pale Olm salamander that dwells in limestone caves.

The Chinese giant salamander, with a nose-to-rump length of up to nearly six feet (1.8 meters), tops the list as the highest conservation priority, Meredith said. One threat has been hunting. Locals and others use hooks to capture the burrowing salamanders for their skin, considered a delicacy by some.

Another chart-topper is the purple frog, Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis. The purple-pigmented frog wasn't discovered until 2003, because it stays hidden beneath about 13 feet (four meters) of earth for most of the year, feeding on termites.