Revealing an Idaho Giant
Imagine hiking through undergrowth and wading through pristine streams searching for a creature so elusive most people have never seen one. Once found, practically every piece of data recorded is new information. Imagine your findings adding to the scientific knowledge on a new species. Imagine camping out with friends in gorgeous Idaho wilderness and getting academic credits for it. NNU students have been doing just that for several summers at “Salamander Camp.”
NNU’s Dr. John Cossel, biology department chair and herpetologist, hosts Salamander Camp as an opportunity for NNU students to participate in field research on the Idaho Giant Salamander.
The Idaho Giant Salamander is a species endemic to the Northern Rocky Mountain Region. These secretive creatures found almost exclusively in Idaho mountain streams have gone relatively unstudied by scientists until now. Through this ongoing field study, the NNU Department of Biology has positioned itself on the cutting edge of research on this remarkable animal.
"It’s a perfect symbol. Its common name has ‘Idaho’ in it because it is an endemic species."So what makes this salamander so interesting? The Idaho Giant Salamander is unique to scientists for several reasons. It is one of the largest terrestrial salamander species, it can reach maturity in a both aquatic and terrestrial forms (meaning some have gills and live only in water, and others have lungs and live on land), and it was only recently classified as a separate and distinct species.
One Idaho 8th grader, Ilah Hickman, has become a major advocate for the Idaho Giant. She has spent the last five years lobbying that this salamander become the official state amphibian. She attended Salamander Camp as a special guest in the summer of 2014 to see and work with the Idaho Giant first hand.
Cossel assisted her with her lobbying efforts saying, “It’s a perfect symbol. Its common name has ‘Idaho’ in it because it is an endemic species. This means that they are found almost entirely within the state of Idaho and nowhere else on planet Earth.” In early April, Ilah’s dream was fulfilled when Idaho State Governor Otter finally signed a bill designating the Idaho Giant Salamander as the official state amphibian.
“Idaho Giant Salamanders were once believed to be somewhat rare, and possibly declining. However, researchers found that they are widespread through the central and northern parts of our state. This is a species of amphibian that many citizens of Idaho could encounter while out enjoying the natural beauty of our state,” said Cossel.
The now famous amphibian can also be seen on NNU’s campus. Ask a biology researcher to introduce you when you visit campus. Or better yet come experience first hand the cutting-edge research opportunities that Idaho’s unique environs offer as an NNU student.