Sight is a pretty important sense. Most animals use some form of sight to navigate their worlds, and some, like us, rely on it pretty heavily. In some places, though, sight is pretty useless. If you spend your whole life underground, for example, there’s not much point in having eyes. The same goes for animals who live in caves, which applies to today’s animal.
The Texas blind salamander is one of those animals that actually has a really accurate name: it is found only in Texas, it is blind, and it is a salamander. The salamander can only be found in underground water systems in a plateau in Texas, the Edwards plateau. It is usually found in dark cave streams within these systems, which is why these guys have no need for sight.
Texas blind salamanders are fragile-looking creatures. They have pale skin and thin limbs. Their heads are broad and flat, with bright red external gills on either side of the face. They have vestigial eyes, meaning that their ancestors once had functional eyes, but those have since been lost after many thousands of years of living in dark caves. The eyes are hidden under the skin of the blind salamander, which somehow makes these salamanders look super creepy.
Not a whole lot is known about Texas blind salamander reproduction. I guess they would be pretty difficult to observe in the wild, since they are found in darkness and are quite rare. In the laboratory females rub their heads along males’ backs, and if that doesn’t work, they will proceed to scratch them or wave their tails at them. Once the females have convinced the males to get down to business, the males act extremely impersonal, simply depositing a spermatophore on a rock which females then have to go pick up with their cloacae. Not a whole lot of love in Texas blind salamanders, apparently.
Again, not much is known about blind salamander feeding and behaviour. They will pretty much eat whatever flows into their caves, which is probably a good idea, since there likely isn’t that much food deep in caves.
Texas blind salamanders are listed as endangered, mainly because they live in such a restricted area that they are vulnerable to habitat destruction. There may be more of these guys than we think, though, as some of them may live deep in cave depths where we cannot find them. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t protect these guys, being proactive is always best.
Cover image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, via National Geographic