New salamander species from Southern China! 中国南方小鲵新种

Welcoming the Fujian Bamboo Salamander to science! 欢迎虚竹小鲵走进科学!We described a new species, the Fujian Bamboo Salamander (Hynobius bambusicolus).

The Fujian Bamboo Salamander (Hynobius bambusicolus) in situ in Southern China

Human activities, such as anthropogenisation of landscapes, have led to the sixth mass extinction, with species of large size and narrow spatial range being most impacted. Between 900 and 130,000 species have become extinct since the 1500s, and even species that have not yet been described are going extinct without being documented. Amphibians are the most threatened animal class, with habitat loss being a major driver of their decline. To improve their status, a clear taxonomy is needed, especially in southern China where many species still need formal description or taxonomic revision. Conservation actions are crucial for maintaining evolutionary patterns free of anthropomorphic selection, but practitioners need to know what to protect, and thus species need to be described currently, as conservation does not correspond to threat status, and we can only protect what we know.


Most Hynobius salamander species in China are expected to have been described, but taxonomic resolutions are ongoing. There are six described species on the Chinese mainland and five on Taiwan island, all terrestrial, partially fossorial and breeding through larval development in water bodies. A Hynobius salamander collected in 1978 from Fujian has not been seen since, potentially because of local extirpations. We tested for phylogenetic clustering within the H. chinensis clade and determined the taxonomic status with phylogenetic tools, resulting in the description of a new species, Hynobius bambusicolus.


Distribution of Hynobius species in Southern China

We found a significant variation between H. bambusicolus and all 18 other species based on rates of evolutionary divergence between sequence pairs. The average divergence rate was higher than for other pairs, supporting the position of the candidate species as a deeply divergent clade within the Southern Chinese group of East Asian Hynobiids. All phylogenetic trees coherently recovered the candidate species as monophyletic, identified as sister species to H. amjiensis in some trees.


Bayesian Inference tree inferred from 1451 bp of 16S rRNA, Cytb, and COI gene fragments
of Hynobiid salamanders distributed across East Asia.

In the study, we obtained 55 haplotypes based on the gene fragment for COI, representing 16 species of Hynobiid salamanders across East Asia. The haplotype diversity was 0.98, and a shared relationship was observed between the haplotype group of the candidate species and geographically related haplotypes of Southern Chinese Hynobius. Morphometric measurements indicated that the species was larger in size, with a low number of coastal grooves and a toe formula similar to other species in the area. The number of costal grooves was identified as an important character for the non-invasive identification of the species.


We described the new species of Hynobiid salamander, H. bambusicolus, based on molecular analysis and morphology. The species was found in Fujian province, China, specifically in bamboo forests and is named the Fujian Bamboo Salamander. The species name comes from the habitat of the holotype and the Chinese name, 虚竹小鲵 (pronounced: Xū Zhú Xiǎo Ní), reflects the scientific name and is named after a character from the Jin Yong’s swordsman fiction, where an unknown Shaolin monk inherits great powers by coincidence and starts a legendary journey.

根据分子和形态学分析,我们描述了一个小鲵新种——虚竹小鲵(H. bambusicolus)。该物种发现于中国福建省的竹林中。种加词 bambusicolus取自模式标本的栖息地,中文名称“虚竹小鲵”与其学名(H. bambusicolus)相对应,“虚竹”取自金庸武侠小说《天龙八部》中的主要人物。

Example of Hynobius bambusicolus sp. nov. adult in life from Quxi
village, Liancheng county, People’s Republic of China.

We only found H. bambusicolus in the Quxi village, Liancheng County in China. Its larvae and development stages are typical of Hynobius salamanders, with functional limbs developing slowly. The species can be identified through its location and a combination of 10 or fewer costal grooves with a total length greater than 180 mm. Juveniles have brown coloring and blue speckling that disappears with age, while adults are a uniform dark chocolate colour with light grey and blue speckling on the venter.

目前,虚竹小鲵(H. bambusicolus)仅发现于中国福建省连城县曲溪乡。其幼体各个发育阶段为典型的小鲵发育模式,四肢发育缓慢。可根据栖息地及其肋沟数目对其进行鉴定,肋沟一般不超过10条,且体长大于180毫米。幼体褐色具蓝色斑点,且随着年龄增长,蓝色斑点逐渐消失。成体通体深巧克力色,腹部具浅灰色和蓝色斑点。

Representative developmental stages for eggs and larvae of Hynobius bambusicolus sp. nov.
from Fujian, China. (A) pre‑hatching; (B) 16 days old. (C) 69 days old. (D) 74 days old. (E) 77 days
old. (F) 87 days old.

Hynobius bambusicolus salamanders breed in shallow pools found in bamboo forests above 1400 m above sea level, laying their egg sacs (containing between 21 and 27 eggs) in pools made by tire tracks. Adult salamanders hide under logs, stones, or dead leaves in wet soil and humus in waterlogged areas. The salamanders emit a short, low-frequency call composed of four strong harmonics, possibly as an alarm call.


Natural habitat of the Fujian Bamboo Salamander (Hynobius bambusicolus) in Southern China

We described H. bambusicolus based on divergent genetic origins, unique morphological characteristics, and separate distribution from other Hynobius species. Identification of H. bambusicolus is easiest based on its geographic location, as it has no overlap with other Hynobius species and is an ancient lineage that likely experienced distribution changes due to paleogeographic and climatic variations. The area inhabited by this species also includes other Caudata, and competition with other genera may occur.


Identification key for Hynobius bambusicolus

The H. bambusicolus salamander is micro-endemic and has a restricted distribution with an incredibly small population size, making it highly vulnerable to extinction. The species is adapted to sub-tropical bamboo forests, but also prefers cold temperatures for spawning. Surveys in 2023 confirmed that the species is known from a single locality with only a few extremely small water bodies, potentially containing a maximum of 20 breeding females. The population size is likely to be well below 200 breeding individuals, meeting the IUCN Red List criteria for critically endangered species. The establishment of an ex-situ population is recommended to prevent extinction due to climate instability and other stochastic risks.

从已掌握的信息来看,虚竹小鲵分布范围有限,是狭小空间的特有种,种群极小,这使得它们非常容易灭绝。该物种适应了在热带竹林的生活环境,但更喜欢在寒冷的气候下进行产卵。 据2023 年的调查显示,该物种只生存在单个地点中少量的极小水体周边,并且该地最多可能只有 20 只可繁殖中的雌性个体。虚竹小鲵的种群数量很可能远低于 200 只可繁殖个体,已达到极度濒危物种的衡量标准。因此,我们建议建立自然生境以外的虚竹小鲵人工饲养种群,以避免该物种因气候不稳定和其它随机风险而导致的灭绝

Holotype of Hynobius bambusicolus collected in Quxi village, Liancheng county, People’s Republic of China

To protect the new species, hobbyists should avoid collecting and trading it, and keep information about its location confidential. Habitat loss, particularly through bamboo plantation and harvest, is the main threat to the species, and climate change is likely to contract its distribution. To reduce stresses on the species, herbicide use and water pumping in the area should be minimized, and habitat restoration efforts such as artificial ponds and rehabilitating old reservoirs should be implemented to boost population growth.


Reference: Wang Z., Othman S. N., Qiu Z., Lu Y., Prasad V. K., Dong Y., Lu C-H. & Borzée A. (2023). An isolated and deeply divergent Hynobius species from Fujian, China. Animals. 13:1661. DOI: 10.3390/ani13101661.

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