The fate of the world’s richest biodiversity of salamanders and newts is in the hands of “pet” collectors across North America. At issue is salamander chytrid disease, caused by a fungus that infects both salamanders and newts with near total lethality. The fungus, known as B.sal, infects the skin, causing wart-like lesions. As the disease progresses, the animal stops eating, becomes lethargic, loses control of its body movements and eventually dies.
Originally from Asia, the disease – spread by the pet trade – has completely wiped out wild populations where it has appeared in Europe and the U.K.
Experts are raising the alarm, urging immediate action. The threat is similar to invasive fungal disease that all but wiped out entire species of frogs in South and Central America, and white nose disease, which has killed entire colonies of bats – millions of animals – across North America.
Scientists are warning people who already keep salamanders or newts to make sure any water or cage wastes are properly disinfected before discarding them. Always seek appropriate veterinary care for sick salamanders and newts.
The fungus makes little zoospores that can even swim on their own a short distance. They can live in water and in mud and are easily spread.
Experts advise to never handle wild salamanders, and never, ever release pet animals into the wild.
With their shy nature, salamanders keep a low profile that belies their importance to the ecosystem, where they occupy a niche similar to that of frogs and toads. They eat insects and other aquatic invertebrates and are in turn eaten by fish, birds and small mammals.
Amphibians are key components within the food web. A decline or elimination of even one species will have some impact, a trickle-down effect on other species within that food web.
Many people appreciate the mystic and beauty of exotic animals such as reptiles, amphibians, birds or mammals of non-native species or individuals of native species that have been raised in captivity. They succumb to the temptation of purchasing critters, reptiles, amphibians and other exotic animals, often on impulse. Too often little thought is put into the care and commitment necessary to properly provide for these animals. Parents frequently purchase the animals as learning aids or entertainment for their children who are far too young to be responsible for an intelligent, emotional, living being.
If you have the time, resources and compassion to make a home for a critter, reptile, amphibian or exotic animal, adopt rather than supporting the inhumane pet trade industry. Like dogs and cats, millions of mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, reptiles, exotic animals and "pocket" pets are available through humane societies, shelters and rescue groups each year.