Salamander Chytrid Fungus

Eastern newt, Photo courtesy of John MacGregor

Eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) terrestrial eft stage at Red River Gorge in KY.
Photo courtesy of John MacGregor

Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, or Bsal, is a newly emergent fungal pathogen of salamanders and newts. The fungus, first identified in the Netherlands, has caused significant declines of salamander populations in Europe, with 96% mortality in populations of fire salamanders. The fungus, which is native to Asia, is believed to have been introduced to Europe through the importation of exotic salamanders that act as reservoirs. The disease is not yet present in North America, but could be devastating to native salamander populations. Commercial trade of Asian salamanders is the greatest factor contributing to the spread of Bsal and poses the biggest threat to native species. North American salamanders including some members of the Salamandridae and Plethodontidae appeared highly susceptible to Bsal in experimental studies and experienced rapid mortality.

Why should we care?

North America is a global hot spot for salamander diversity and is home to nearly 50% of all species. Kentucky alone harbors 35 species of salamanders, and has amongst the greatest diversity of salamander species in the world. 

Salamanders play an important ecological role as some of the most-abundant forest floor vertebrates, and are integral to aquatic and terrestrial food webs. They are critical indicator of ecosystem health and contribute to Kentucky’s biodiversity.  

How is it spread?

Chytrid fungi can be transmitted by contaminated water or organic material or by direct contact with an infected salamander. The biggest risk of introduction is through the importation and release of exotic salamanders into the wild. People may increase disease transmission and spread through the handling amphibians, movement between sites and across natural barriers to disease spread, and between captive holding facilities and the field.

How can you help?

Never release pet or captive salamanders into the wild. If a captive newt or salamander has Bsal and is released, this could be devastating to wild populations. 

If housing salamanders, ensure that you treat all waste water from enclosures (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) before discharge into the environment. 

Pet owners are encouraged to have their salamanders tested for chytrid fungus. For a limited time, a free service is available through the Amphibian Specialist Group and Amphibian Survival Alliance. To order your free Bsal sampling kit, go to www.amphibians.org/news/free-base-testing-kits.  

With your cooperation, we can ensure that our native salamanders remain free of the salamander chytrid fungus.

A printable educational handout for pet owners and herpetoculturists is available here.

For more information on the salamander chytrid fungus, please visit:

Disinfection Protocol:

http://fishandboat.com/ais/NEPARC_Disinfection_Protocol.pdf