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Category — Waterdog

CREW’s Aquatic Salamander Lab ‘Goes Green’ to Help Waterdogs Reproduce

CREW Black Warrior Waterdog

Black Warrior Waterdog

Since 2008, CREW has been working to prevent extinction of one of North America’s most endangered salamander species, the black warrior waterdog. This project has involved the collaborative efforts of the Cincinnati Zoo, Innovative Zoological Solutions and the Cincinnati Museum Center. Initially, our work involved field surveys of Black Warrior Waterdogs in Alabama to estimate population numbers and learn more about the species biology and habitat parameters so that future efforts at captive management and propagation could be optimized. In the years following, our research has expanded to include a large scale phylogenetic study and the establishment of captive assurance populations at CREW. Since 2011, three species of waterdogs (black warrior waterdogs, gulf coast waterdogs and mudpuppies) have been maintained in CREW’s Aquatic Salamander Laboratory.


Aquatic Salamander Lab

As waterdogs are fully aquatic salamanders, they require customized life support systems when maintained in captivity. Each tank is maintained on a separate UV, filter and chiller system. Since the Cincinnati Zoo is the Greenest Zoo in America, we took a ‘green’ approach when establishing CREW’s aquatic salamander lab. We have developed what we believe is a novel photoperiod mimicking system for captive environments using solar panels. This advancement in artificial lighting not only emulates natural changes in sunrise and sunset, but also daily intensity variations. As the lab does not have direct access to outside light, it was important that we try to replicate the natural environment. The system negates costs associated with electrical systems, as it runs completely off the grid and uses energy efficient LED lights. Go Green Waterdogs!

This year marked a banner year for CREW’s captive breeding program in that all three species of waterdogs produced eggs. Some of those eggs were fertilized and we are anxiously awaiting the hatching of waterdog babies! Be sure to stay tuned for future blog posts about CREW’s adventures with Waterdogs.

June 4, 2013   2 Comments

Black Warrior Waterdog – January Field Trip

Waterdogs in Winter

While many species become less active as temperatures drop in wintertime, the aquatic salamanders known as waterdogs are on the move.  Waterdog activity is reverse to those of the large predatory fish to which they coexist.  More importantly, primary prey items for waterdogs (aquatic insects) are restricted to leaf pack and hence accessible for snacking at this time of year. 

We plan our waterdog survey trips to coincide with the species natural biology.  Therefore, we have maximum opportunity to capture and collect data from adult individuals.  Over the past three years, we have surveyed for the Black Warrior Waterdog in NW Alabama during late January.  However, prior to our trip this year, heavy rain moved into the projected survey sites and we had to change our plans.  We still needed to survey for waterdogs in 3 eastern Alabama drainages:  Coosa, Alabama and Tallapoosa.  Unfortunately, the water had not lowered in these drainages, which made our chances of finding any waterdogs extremely difficult.  In scouting out spots to search for waterdogs and by talking to local residents about the area, we feel prepared to attempt another trip in the near future when water levels are lower.

The second part of our trip took us to the state of Georgia and two river drainages: Flint and Ochlocknee.  While we didn’t have much luck at the cited locality in the Flint Drainage, we headed down the road to where a tributary of the Flint crossed. The water was a few feet higher than normal. The good news was there were large leaf packs along the bank. About 2 minutes into the dip-netting process we started finding waterdogs! After a lot of driving in the previous days, it was a relief to make progress. We also checked multiple sites in the Ochlocknee River Drainage and despite working until the sun set, we didn’t find any more waterdogs. However, the creeks we went to looked promising. This part of Georgia had not yet received much rain. The good news is we can pick this drainage up in Florida when we go later in the year.


February 20, 2012   43 Comments

Black Warrior Waterdog – Survey Summary

On December 13, 2011,  we conducted the Black Warrior Waterdog survey. The river was packed with leaves, which is a good sign.  In the first leaf pack we netted there was a small larval waterdog. That was good news! This means that from our surveys last year, the adults in this population are successfully breeding. We found a few other salamanders that are sympatric  with N. alabamensis; the Northern Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber ruber), Spring Salamander (Gyrinophilus sp.), and Two-lined Salamanders (Eurycea cirrigera).

We were almost a third of the way upstream and we were no longer finding waterdogs. The season seemed a little behind what we observed last year. It was warmer outside, even though the water temperature was still pretty cold.  And, the leaf packs were still fresh – the leaves weren’t decomposed yet. In the past, we’ve noticed the waterdogs like to be near the shore line and in leaf packs that are more decomposed.  We continued to push further upstream; farther than we’ve ever found waterdogs before.

Black Warrior Waterdog research

Surprisingly we found two larvae.  We found five total.

January 17, 2012   No Comments