After two years of study in an isolated northeast Oklahoma cave, Jim Stout has discovered that a rare species of grotto salamander has a diet much different from what was expected.
OKLAHOMA CITY After two years of study in an isolated northeast Oklahoma cave, Jim Stout has discovered that a rare species of grotto salamander has a diet much different from what was expected.
Stout, the supervisor of the Herpetarium at the Oklahoma City Zoo, has helped write a report published by a leading scholarly journal that documents how a blind cave-dwelling salamander eats bat droppings. The salamander was thought to subsist on bugs and shrimp and this is the first report of a salamander, or any amphibian, living on bat guano.
His article is in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Biological Sciences. Dante Fenolio collaborated on the research.
"Because bats don't fully digest their food, their guano was pretty nutritious, and actually had more calories than the tiny shrimp," Stout said. "In effect, by eating the bat droppings, the salamanders have cut out the middle man."
At the time of the study, Fenolio, an expert in salamanders, was working on his master's degree at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Stout said.
Fenolio is now at the University of Miami, Fla., where he is working on his doctorate.
In addition to Stout, Fenolio's co-authors on the journal article are G.O. Graening, a cave biologist with the Nature Conservancy in Arkansas, and Bret A. Collier of Texas A&M University's department of wildlife and fisheries sciences in College Station, Texas.
Stout said the group's original mission was a two-year population ecology study of a federally protected cave in Delaware County.
Stout said about 15,000 grey bats live in the cave he studied.
"Except for the bats, the cave is a pretty sterile environment, and the grotto salamander population was larger than we thought the cave could support," Stout said. "Things didn't add up at first."
The researchers also noticed a significant drop in the grotto salamander population when the migrating bats were not there. The bats live in the cave from May to December.
Source: Associated Press