SAN ANTONIO – There is a family resemblance between the Georgia Blind Salamander and its cousin, the endangered Texas Blind Salamander, which is a with which species we are all familiar in South Texas. Both lack eyes, pigment and lead somewhat gloomy lives.
"You live in complete darkness and you actually live in some cooler temperatures," said Dr. Dante Fenolio, director of conservation and research at the San Antonio Zoo.
They both also live in underground, heavily used aquifers: the Edwards and Floridan, which stretch across Florida, Georgia and Alabama. It is for that reason that Fenolio has spent 11 years researching the Georgia Blind Salamander.
And his research just hit a big milestone. He, along with several partners, have now successfully bred the species for the first time in captivity.
"Now, we have the capability of producing these salamanders in captivity and learning a lot about what makes groundwater life so special,” Fenolio said.
Fenolio brought his research on the salamander with him when he arrived at the San Antonio Zoo from Georgia. The efforts run parallel to the work of preserving the Texas Blind Salamander.
The hope is that the new developments will keep the Georgia Blind Salamander from becoming threatened like its cousin.
So, why are these small creatures such a concern? It has to with where they live.
The Floridan Aquifer provides drinking water to 10 million people, while the Edwards Aquifer serves about 1.5 million. And the salamanders serve as a warning system.
“These animals, because they live there, they'll tell us a lot about the quality of our groundwater, right off the bat,” Fenolio said. “They don't live anywhere else. They're stuck in the groundwater."
Should the number of the salamanders begin to fall, it could signal that pollution is affecting the groundwater, and large poplulations who rely on the water could be impacted.
"If you do value your drinking water, then these things should be critically important to you,” Fenolio said.