Caddisfly larvae (Limnophilus spp.) are important predators of eggs of the rough-skinned newt (Taricha granulosa). Newts may possess extremely large quantities of the neurotoxin tetrodotoxin (TTX) in their skin, and females may provision this toxin in their eggs. Using a competitive inhibition enzymatic immunoassay, we examined TTX-resistant caddisflies, sympatric with the known most toxic population of newts, for the presence of TTX. We found that caddisflies sequester TTX after consuming eggs in the laboratory. Caddisfly larvae that were frozen immediately after collecting in the wild possessed TTX. Finally, wild-caught larvae reared on a TTX-free diet in the laboratory retained TTX for up to 134 days, through metamorphosis and into the adult stage.
A third-stage (infective) larva of Dracunculus medinensis, the causative agent of Guinea worm disease, was recovered from a wild-caught Phrynobatrachus francisci frog in Chad. Although green frogs (Lithobates clamitans) have been experimentally infected with D. medinensis worms, our findings prove that frogs can serve as natural paratenic hosts.
The male red-bellied newt (Cynops pyrrhogaster) approaches the female’s cloaca prior to performing any courtship behaviour, as if he is using some released substance to gauge whether she is sexually receptive. Therefore, we investigated whether such a female sexual attractiveness pheromone exists. We found that a tripeptide with amino acid sequence Ala-Glu-Phe is secreted by the ciliary cells in the epithelium of the proximal portion of the oviduct of sexually developed newts and confirmed that this is the major active substance in water in which sexually developed female newts have been kept. This substance only attracted sexually developed male newts and acted by stimulating the vomeronasal epithelial cells. This is the first female sexual attractiveness peptide pheromone to be identified in a vertebrate.
Analysing DNA that organisms release into the environment (environmental DNA, or eDNA) has enormous potential for assessing rare and cryptic species. At present the method is only reliably used to assess the presence-absence of species in natural environments, as seasonal influences on eDNA in relation to presence, abundance, life stages and seasonal behaviours are poorly understood. A naturally colonised, replicated pond system was used to show how seasonal changes in eDNA were influenced by abundance of adults and larvae of great crested newts (Triturus cristatus). Peaks in eDNA were observed in early June when adult breeding was coming to an end, and between mid-July and mid-August corresponding to a peak in newt larval abundance. Changes in adult body condition associated with reproduction also influenced eDNA concentrations, as did temperature (but not rainfall or UV). eDNA concentration fell rapidly as larvae metamorphosed and left the ponds. eDNA concentration may therefore reflect relative abundance in different ponds, although environmental factors can affect the concentrations observed. Nevertheless, eDNA surveys may still represent an improvement over unadjusted counts which are widely used in population assessments but have unreliable relationships with population size.
Emerging technologies have led to an increase in species observations being recorded via digital images. Such visual records are easily shared, and are often uploaded to online communities when help is required to identify or validate species. Although this is common practice, little is known about the accuracy of species identification from such images. Using online images of newts that are native and non-native to the UK, this study asked holders of great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) licences (issued by UK authorities to permit surveying for this species) to sort these images into groups, and to assign species names to those groups. All of these experts identified the native species, but agreement among these participants was low, with some being cautious in committing to definitive identifications. Individuals' accuracy was also independent of both their experience and self-assessed ability. Furthermore, mean accuracy was not uniform across species (69-96%). These findings demonstrate the difficulty of accurate identification of newts from a single image, and that expert judgements are variable, even within the same knowledgeable community. We suggest that identification decisions should be made on multiple images and verified by more than one expert, which could improve the reliability of species data.
The use of aquatic environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect the presence of species depends on the seasonal activity of the species in the sampled habitat. eDNA may persist in sediments for longer than it does in water, and analysing sediment could potentially extend the seasonal window for species assessment. Using the great crested newt as a model, we compare how detection probability changes across the seasons in eDNA samples collected from both pond water and pond sediments. Detection of both aquatic and sedimentary eDNA varied through the year, peaking in the summer (July), with its lowest point in the winter (January): in all seasons, detection probability of eDNA from water exceeded that from sediment. Detection probability of eDNA also varied between study areas, and according to great crested newt habitat suitability and sediment type. As aquatic and sedimentary eDNA show the same seasonal fluctuations, the patterns observed in both sample types likely reflect current or recent presence of the target species. However, given the low detection probabilities found in the autumn and winter we would not recommend using either aquatic or sedimentary eDNA for year-round sampling without further refinement and testing of the methods.
The newt, a urodele amphibian, is able to repeatedly regenerate its limbs throughout its lifespan, whereas other amphibians deteriorate or lose their ability to regenerate limbs after metamorphosis. It remains to be determined whether such an exceptional ability of the newt is either attributed to a strategy, which controls regeneration in larvae, or on a novel one invented by the newt after metamorphosis. Here we report that the newt switches the cellular mechanism for limb regeneration from a stem/progenitor-based mechanism (larval mode) to a dedifferentiation-based one (adult mode) as it transits beyond metamorphosis. We demonstrate that larval newts use stem/progenitor cells such as satellite cells for new muscle in a regenerated limb, whereas metamorphosed newts recruit muscle fibre cells in the stump for the same purpose. We conclude that the newt has evolved novel strategies to secure its regenerative ability of the limbs after metamorphosis.
The use of environmental DNA (eDNA) to assess the presence-absence of rare, cryptic or invasive species is hindered by a poor understanding of the factors that can remove DNA from the system. In aquatic systems, eDNA can be transported out either horizontally in water flows or vertically by incorporation into the sediment. Equally, eDNA may be broken down by various biotic and abiotic processes if the target organism leaves the system. We use occupancy modelling and a replicated mesocosm experiment to examine how detection probability of eDNA changes once the target species is no longer present. We hypothesise that detection probability falls faster with a sediment which has a large number of DNA binding sites such as topsoil or clay, over lower DNA binding capacity substrates such as sand. Water removed from ponds containing the target species (the great crested newt) initially showed high detection probabilities, but these fell to between 40% and 60% over the first 10 days and to between 10% and 22% by day 15: eDNA remained detectable at very low levels until day 22. Very little difference in detection was observed between the control group (no substrate) and the sand substrate. A small reduction in detection probability was observed between the control and clay substrates, but this was not significant. However, a highly significant reduction in detection probability was observed with a topsoil substrate. This result is likely to have stemmed from increased levels of PCR inhibition, suggesting that incorporation of DNA into the sentiment is of only limited importance. Surveys of aquatic species using eDNA clearly need to take account of substrate type as well as other environmental factors when collecting samples, analysing data and interpreting the results.
Salamanders regenerate appendages via a progenitor pool called the blastema. The cellular mechanisms underlying regeneration of muscle have been much debated but have remained unclear. Here we applied Cre-loxP genetic fate mapping to skeletal muscle during limb regeneration in two salamander species, Notophthalmus viridescens (newt) and Ambystoma mexicanum (axolotl). Remarkably, we found that myofiber dedifferentiation is an integral part of limb regeneration in the newt, but not in axolotl. In the newt, myofiber fragmentation results in proliferating, PAX7(-) mononuclear cells in the blastema that give rise to the skeletal muscle in the new limb. In contrast, myofibers in axolotl do not generate proliferating cells, and do not contribute to newly regenerated muscle; instead, resident PAX7(+) cells provide the regeneration activity. Our results therefore show significant diversity in limb muscle regeneration mechanisms among salamanders and suggest that multiple strategies may be feasible for inducing regeneration in other species, including mammals.
We describe an Oligocene newt specimen from western Germany that has gone practically unnoticed in the literature despite having been housed in the Museum für Naturkunde (Berlin) for a century. It is referable to the coeval Chelotriton, but is unusually peramorphic; for many characters it is more peramorphic than all other caudates or even all other lissamphibians. Most noticeable are the position of the jaw joints far caudal to the occiput, the honeycombed sculpture on the maxilla, and the possible presence of a septomaxilla (which would be unique among salamandrids). Referral to a species would require a revision of the genus, but the specimen likely does not belong to the type species. A phylogenetic analysis of nonmolecular characters of Salamandridae, far larger than all predecessors, confirms the referral to Chelotriton. It further loosely associates the Oligocene Archaeotriton and the Miocene Carpathotriton with the extant Lissotriton, though the former may alternatively lie outside Pleurodelinae altogether. The Miocene? I. randeckensis may not belong to the extant Ichthyosaura. The Miocene “Triturus” roehrsi is found neither with the extant Ommatotriton nor with Lissotriton, but inside an Asian/aquatic clade or, when geographic distribution is included as a character, as the sister-group to all other European molgins. The main cause for discrepancies between the results and the molecular consensus is not heterochrony, but adaptations to a life in mountain streams; this is the most likely reason why the Paleocene Koalliella from western Europe forms the sister-group to some or all of the most aquatic extant newts in different analyses. We would like to urge neontologists working on salamandrids to pay renewed attention to the skeleton, not limited to the skull, as a source of diagnostic and phylogenetically informative characters.