Texas blind Salamander

Description and biology

The Texas blind salamander, which inhabits underground caves, has whitish, transparent skin. Its larger organs are visible through its sides and belly, giving its body a pinkish tinge.

It has blood–red external gills and tiny gray dots covering its upper body. Two dark spots under the skin on the salamander’s head may have been eyes at one time in this species’ history.

Its body is short and slender, and its large head has a wide, flattened snout. An average adult has a head and body length of about 5 inches (13 centimeters). Its tail, which tapers at the tip, is about the same length as the head and body. The salamander’s long, slender legs resemble toothpicks.

The Texas blind salamander is a major predator in its underground habitat. It feeds on invertebrates such as shrimp and snails. If the salamander is brought to the surface through a spring or well, however, it is an easy prey for fish.

Biologists (people who study living organisms) know very little about this salamanders’ reproductive habits. They believe it is able to mate throughout the year.

Habitat and current distribution

The Texas blind salamander is found only in the San Marcos Pool of the Edwards Aquifer in Hays County, Texas (an aquifer is an underground layer of sand, gravel, or spongy rock that collects water). Biologists have no estimate of the salamanders’ total population.

This salamander lives in the perpetual darkness of underground streams and caves. The water of its habitat is usually very clean and has a constant temperature just under 70°F (21°C).

History and conservation measures

The Texas blind salamander was first identified in 1896. By the 1960s, it had begun to decline in number. The main reason was overcollection.

Many scientists and hobbyists captured the salamander, fascinated by its physical appearance and ability to live in a cave environment. To protect the salamander from further collection, the only entrance to its habitat, Ezell’s Cave, was declared a nature preserve.

The survival of this salamander depends on the quality of its water habitat. Farms and increasing urban development in its range now threaten the water. The water level in the aquifer continues to decrease as more and more water is used for human consumption and for crop irrigation.

In addition, pollution from both urban areas and farms threatens to seep into the aquifer, destroying the Texas blind salamanders’ fragile ecosystem.