Nature Matters: Aquarium Studying Strange Salamanders

By KBJR News 1

July 31, 2013 Updated Jul 31, 2013 at 9:37 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com)
This is Sally the Tiger Salamander and she lives at the Great Lakes Aquarium.
She is a perfectly normal adult specimen with lungs and a tail.
Her neighbors are freaks of nature, though.
They're adults that still have their juvenile gills and fins.
They were found in a 17 foot deep reservoir at the old Badger Army Ammunition Plant in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

"They got in their and they couldn't get out." explains Tara Jones of the Aquarium.

The mutant salamanders were discovered in 1993 and may have been there since the 1940's.

"They had to adapt or survive and they did. They survived." said Jones.

Even though they retained juvenile characteristics, the salamanders matured enough to reproduce.
Now, the aquarium is trying to reproduce what could have kept the animals in an immature yet mature state.
Some of the aquarium salamanders live in an all water environment in a three foot tall tank and some have access to land unlike the life lived in the reservoir.

"So far, they research is going in the opposite direction of the original hypothesis." said reporter Dave Anderson on the grounds of the aquarium.

It was thought that the animals in the water would stay juvenile while the ones with land access would mature.
Right now, the ones in water are morphing into true adults at a more rapid rate.

"We assumed based on very little research that keeping them in three feet of water would keep them in the juvenile state." said Katie Fritz, an educator with the aquarium.

That has researchers looking into the effects of water levels, oxygen levels, light levels and chemical composition for an answer.
The answer hasn't been found yet.

"It's nature finding a way to make life work. That's a really fun message to share." said Fritz.

In Duluth, Dave Anderson, KBJR 6 and Range 11.

Plans are in the works to destroy the salamander reservoir in Baraboo as the ammunition plant they served is long gone.
The DNR is looking into relocating the remaining animals.