London, July 9 (ANI): A striking new species of lungless salamander has been found living in a small stream in the Appalachian foothills of the US.
According to a report by BBC News, the salamander, scientifically known as 'Urspelerpes brucei', is so distinct that it's been classified within its own genus, a taxonomic grouping that usually includes a host of related species.
The creature breathes through its skin, and unusually for its kind, males and females have different colouration.
Such a distinct amphibian has not been found in the US for half a century.
The researchers who discovered the creature have dubbed it the 'patch-nosed' salamander after the yellow patch on the animal's snout.
The tiny animal averages just 25 to 26mm long.
The researchers found so few of the animals that either it is highly secretive, or more likely it survives in such small, isolated numbers that it is already at risk of extinction.
"This animal is really a spectacular find," said Biologist Carlos Camp of Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia, who led the team which described the new species.
"It is the first genus of amphibian, indeed of any four-footed vertebrate, discovered in the US in nearly 50 years," he added.
The Appalachian Highlands of the southeastern US is a hot spot for lungless salamander diversity, with species occupying a variety of moist or wet environments including living in streams, underground, among the leaf litter of the forest floor, up cliffs and in trees.
"The salamander fauna of the US, particularly of the southern Appalachians, has been intensively studied for well over a century, so the discovery of such a distinct form was completely unsuspected," said Carlos.
The amphibian also looks strikingly different to other species.
For a start, it has the smallest body size of any salamander in the US.
It is also the only lungless salamander in the US whose males have a different colour and pattern than females, a trait more characteristic of birds.
Males have a pair of distinct dark stripes running down the sides of the body and a yellow back. Females lack stripes and are more muted in colour.
Males also have 15 vertebrae, one less than females. Yet while most species of lungless salamander have male and females of differing sizes, those of Urspelerpes brucei are close to being equal in size.
Uniquely for such a small lungless salamander, Urspelerpes brucei has five toes, whereas most other small species have reduced that number to four. (ANI)