I’ve just had my heart stolen by a very slippery customer. At little more than two inches long and disguised as a monkey poo I’ll admit he’s not your regular Romeo. But looks can be deceiving.
He’s a Bolitoglossa salamander – the first I’ve ever seen in the flesh. I found him hanging about in a Bromeliad in the magical mist-soaked forests of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada mountain. What I love about him, apart from his dear little face with its watery eyes and sad smile, is the fact he is so very, very slow. I have a weakness for nature’s slowcoaches but Mr Bolitoglossa here takes the biscuit. Or at least he would if he could reach it in time. He’s a serious contender for the slowest animal on earth. Check out the video below featuring an amorous male making his move on a lady (best watched while listening to Prince’s 'Slow love').
Let's make it last all night, baby. Literally
Some may be inclined to mock the romantic credentials of a plodding poop lookalike but not everything about this salamander is slack. Bolitoglossa is Greek for bullet tongue - evolution has equipped Mr B with a spring-loaded licker that can extend more than half his body length in about 7 milliseconds. That's 1/50th the blink of an eye which means he could stick his tongue out at you and you'd never even notice. Scientists measuring Mr B’s tongue thrusts deemed it 'the most explosive muscle in nature' - a positively pornographic title. Who’s laughing now? Mrs B I'd imagine.
He may look innocent but Mr B is a stealth Ninja
With his cloak of invisibility, sly moves and sticky bullet tongue Mr B is one of nature’s most accomplished stealth Ninja’s. He's even capable of creeping up on a cricket - a distinctly flighty customer with an almost supernatural ability to spot a potential stalker thanks to microscopic hair-like sensors capable of detecting movement from minute changes in air pressure. It may not be as glamorous as cheetah's chasing wildebeest on the Serengheti but in the evolutionary arms race between predator and prey the Bolitoglossa have been remarkably successful, evolving into over 100 different species.
But global warming is changing all that. As lungless salamanders these amphibians need moist conditions so they can breathe through their skin, which is why they like to live in cool damp cloud forests on tropical mountains in Central and South America. But climate change is forcing them higher and higher up the slopes and the rapidly looming crisis is that once they reach the top, there will be nowhere left for them to go.
The Bolitoglossa could do with an urgent conservation plan but saving salamanders is not a fashionable business. A recent study showed that the tyranny of cute even effects which animals are studied and protected, favouring those with fluffy faces. For years the Zoological Society of London have been trying to drum up support for the critically endangered Giant Chinese Salamander - something of a PR struggle, what with it looking like a scary six foot penis.
The Giant Chinese Salamander's neighbour, the Giant Panda, has no such problem with even the most dubious conservation efforts attracting millions of precious conservation dollars. But the image of brand Panda is that of a cute, harmless bear whilst the salamander is considered something of a slippery monster. But as we've seen with the peculiarly cunning Mr B, you can't judge a book by its cover. Check out this rare footage of a wild panda chowing down on a dead deer. Panda eats Bambi - who's cute now?
If you think it's time the salamander got a bit of cash and attention then Pro Aves are a Colombian conservation organisation working hard to protect the Bolitoglossa salamander's home, a biodiversity hotspot home to hundreds of endemic species of bird, amphibian and mammal. To support them you can donate here or pay a visit to the spectacularly beautiful El Dorado reserve in the Sierra Nevada mountains with genuine eco-tourism outfit Eco-turs.