Forty Acres Field Guide: Barton Springs Salamander

UT is an urban university in the heart of the city, yet the campus and its environs teem with fascinating plants and animals—from tropical parakeets to the world’s weirdest cactus.


Barton Springs Salamander
(Eurycea sosorum)

Think you’ve logged a lot of hours in the cool waters of Barton Springs? Laurie Dries, BA ’93, probably has you beat. A biologist for the City of Austin, Dries scuba dives in the springs every Thursday, rain or shine—even in the dead of winter. What are she and her team doing down there? Counting salamanders.

Dries’ job is to manage and evaluate the wild populations of salamanders in the pool and its adjacent subsidiary springs—and it’s a job that suits her well. “I like being underwater,” she says. “There is so much diversity in freshwater. All of this variation can be under a single rock. “

Salamander FactThe Barton Springs salamander grows to about 2.5 inches in length and can live up to 11 years in captivity. One of only a few fully aquatic salamanders, the Barton Springs species relies on cold, clear, fast-moving water, and it is most often found at the outflow of the springs. The salamander’s red, external gills resemble a wild mane, and its body can range in color from gray to purple to yellowish-brown.

Since 1997, the salamander has been on the endangered species list. Populations of the amphibian are directly affected by consequences of Austin’s commercial growth, like runoff and pollution. However, these days Dries says that the most imminent threat to its survival is something every other living thing in Texas is dealing with: drought. “I think it’s amazing that the salamanders are hanging in there,” Dries says. “But they are.”

The salamander has survived droughts before, but we don’t know how large the population was before the counting began. But Dries says she’s optimistic now that people are paying attention to the animal’s plight. “People care,” she says. “If they didn’t, then Barton Springs would just be a mud pit.”

To read the rest of the Forty Acres Field Guide, click here.

Photo by Roger Shaw.


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