Sometimes a closer look is worthwhile. In 1930, a black newt with rather warty skin and conspicuous, longitudinally running ridges of protruding lumps on the middle and sides of the back was scientifically described under the name Tylototriton asperrimus. With the German name “Stacheliger Krokodilmolch”, translating to Spiny crocodile newt, its appearance is quite well illustrated. Its range extends over the subtropical evergreen forests in large parts of central and southern China and northern Vietnam – or so it was thought.
From one to nineteen
Until researchers actually took a closer look at these crocodile newts – and were surprised to discover that the seemingly widespread Spiny crocodile newt actually hid a whole series of similar-looking, yet clearly different species. The number of crocodile newts has virtually exploded in the last twenty years. By the end of 2022, the original Tylototriton asperrimus had already become 19 different species, clearly distinct not only genetically, but also in many morphological and biological details.
In the realm of Ziegler's crocodile newt
If it turns out that a species that is considered widespread is actually just a collective name for many species, each of which inhabits only relatively small areas, this has serious implications in terms of species conservation. For the disappearance of individual populations may still be tolerable if the species occurs in enough other places. But if it turns out that the other populations do not belong to this species at all, but are independent species, the threat situation changes abruptly.
„Thus, the namesake became their patron saint, so to say. “
| Susann Knakowske
This is also the case with Ziegler’s crocodile newt. The species, which was only described in 2013, is only known from small regions in the border region of China and Vietnam. Its habitat is endangered by deforestation and agricultural use. Especially the temporary small waters, which are indispensable for reproduction, suffer from the changes – which would mean the end for this quaint-looking newt.
From godfather to patron
Ziegler’s crocodile newt was named after Professor Thomas Ziegler, curator of the aquarium at Cologne Zoo, where this endangered species was successfully bred. Thus, the godfather of the name became its patron saint, so to say. And since Thomas Ziegler is also involved in the advisory board of Citizen Conservation, it is of course a matter of honor that we want to contribute to the establishment of a conservation breeding for this rare and endangered crocodile newt.