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The salamander’s amazing transformation

With the new year comes a new you, usually. And with 2020 having finally come to an end, I’m sure we are all hoping for a transformation to set us on the right path. Animals may not be able to recognize the turning of a year as we do (maybe our pets at home can with the wondering as to why we’re up so late, slurring our words, with wobbly knees as we cheerfully yell at Ryan Seacrest and end with a loud cheer), but there are many animals that transform as the clock ticks away. And I’m not just talking about how we humans transform into our new hobby of knitting or finding a new spot on the sofa as you transfer into the next season of “The Office,” but a true and physical transformation. I suppose you could compare it to that traditional New Year’s resolution of finally going to the gym and getting the beach body you always wanted. But for the animals such as ugly dusters that transform into majestic owls, or red naked jellybeans that become pandas, transformation is just part of life.

If you are a true Zoo Atlanta fan, then you probably saw  most recent episode of WEIRD Animal Facts, which featured Tony the tiger salamander, the one amphibian representative in the Ambassador Animal Department (for more amphibian fun, you’ll have to visit Zoo Atlanta’s Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience). One thing I did not touch on during the video is not only one of the weirdest things amphibians do, but also what makes them so unique: their transformation! And their transformation is much more dramatic than that of a bird or mammal.

The tiger salamander begins its journey as all amphibians do as an egg: a slimy little thing that kind of resembles a booger. And this booger-like egg is laid and hatched in water (remember, from the WEIRD Animal Facts video, water is important for our salamander friends). And unlike lizards or alligators, which when they hatch from their eggs, look like miniature versions of their mommies, this baby salamander looks more like a fish with feather dusters sticking out from its head (these are external gills, so different from fish, but serving the same function: to breathe…while underwater).  **Spoiler Alert: What most of us recognize as a salamander, the final stage, can also breathe air! As a baby, or larva, this little fish-like-juvenile is restricted to only breathing in the water through the gills (FYI gills are what help water critters absorb oxygen out from the water, you know, that stuff needed for survival).**

If knowing that a salamander, at one point in its life, looks kind of like a fish is strange to you, then its next transformation is really going to freak you out, because it then grows legs. Just imagine an almost salamander that’s still wearing that funky headdress (AKA external gills). Soon the salamander ditches the headdress for some new fancy lungs, and with its newly grown and strong legs, walks out of the water and enjoys an exciting life on land (and occasionally in water) as a salamander.

METAMORPHOSIS! This transformation of the salamander is called metamorphosis. And although once born, we humans don’t go through quite a dramatic transformation, we do transform and even metamorphosize in different ways. Whether that’s gaining a new understanding for wildlife or seeing a different point of view, our transformations might not be as obvious on the outside (unless of course you dye your hair bright blue!), but it’s our actions that may change to reflect our inner transformations. Perhaps now since you have taken the time to read this blog, you have gained a new appreciation for amphibians and have learned that they are so totally AMAZING you want to help. And you can, just by visiting Zoo Atlanta or by donating money to help protect amphibian habits. You too can be like the amphibian and transform into a true amphibian ally!

Deidre O.
Keeper II, Ambassador Animals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl