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Scientists studying rare salamander in Mississippi River


Scientists studying rare salamander in Mississippi River

GURRENBERG (AP) — One fortunate byproduct of a 2008 train derailment is that scientists are gaining a better understanding of a rare salamander species that lives in the Mississippi River. The Dubuque Telegraph Herald reports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a long-term survey of mudpuppies in the river near Guttenberg.

Herpetologist Jeff LeClere is helping with the study of the salamanders that can grow up to 16 inches long.

Little is known about the threatened species because the salamanders tend to hide in rocky areas and are most active in winter.

“These records are few and far between, and herpetologists seem to have a difficult time trying to capture mudpuppies,” he said. “And the reason for that is we really didn’t understand a whole lot of their natural history until recently.”

In July 2008, a train derailed after a boulder dislodged by heavy rain tore up part of the track near Guttenberg. Four locomotives sank in the river and leaked oil for days.

Slower-moving aquatic life, such as the salamanders and mussels, were affected by the oil.

The train derailment led to a $625,000 settlement with the Dakota Minnesota and Eastern Railroad, a subsidiary of Canadian Pacific. That is helping pay for the mudpuppy study.

“In the cleanup operation, we did find one dead mudpuppy. We believe it was a juvenile,” said Kevin Hanson with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “Because of that, we requested some of the funds to go toward research to find out more about their population in (Mississippi River) Pool 11 here.”

Already, five mudpuppies have been captured as part of the survey, so the work is off to a good start.

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