Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Super Salamanders

Sidebar: What's Normal?


After arriving at the Zoo last December, the new Japanese giant salamanders went into quarantine, as is customary. For the Zoo’s veterinary staff, this was more than just a routine practice. It was an incredible learning opportunity. “Medically, we know very little,” says head veterinarian Suzan Murray. “We have to have a good understanding of what’s normal to recognize what’s abnormal. And there’s not a lot of information on normal values for the Japanese giant salamander. This is what we’re working on now.”

Freshwater streams form Japanese giant salamanders' natural habitat. (Sumio Okada)

In the effort to learn what’s normal for hanzaki, vets have collected skin, fecal, and blood samples. Since so little is known about these animals, each sample is extremely valuable. “Every sample we get is unique,” says pathologist Tim Walsh. “Even if it seems like a normal skin sample, it’s not, because we’re still figuring out whether we’re going to use it for population genetics, genetic sexing, fungus cultures, bacterial studies. It’s so important to have rare animals like this in captivity because it gives you a chance to do that research over time.”

The Zoo extends this educational effort beyond its gates and shares expertise with other institutions, nationally and internationally, which is especially important with animals this rare. “In terms of medical issues, there’s very little known and published,” says Murray. “So this is an opportunity for us to utilize our resources to learn about the salamanders and contribute to conservation and medical issues.”


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Smithsonian Zoogoer 39(1) 2010. Copyright 2010 Friends of the National Zoo. All rights reserved.