Axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum

This Mexican relative of the Tiger salamander keeps its external gills throughout life, making it a classic example of the retention of juvenile features into adulthood (technically known as paedomorphism or neoteny). Now critically endangered, since most of its former habitat is occupied by Mexico City, it was an important food for the Aztecs, whose name for it translates as “Water Dog”. First brought to Europe in 1863, it became an important experimental animal in laboratories, where an albino mutation was established.

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Aquatic caecilian

Aquatic caecilian, Typhlonectes natans

Very few of the 180 or so caecilian species are easily exhibited in zoos or aquariums, as most live underground. This South American species is an exception, living in water instead. It has been bred in captivity, including the DWA, giving birth to live young. Confined to parts of the Old and Near World Tropics, caecilians compose one of the three orders of amphibians (the other two being frogs and toads, and salamanders). They are the only living amphibians with scales, but these are hidden beneath their skin.

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Blue poison dart frog

Blue poison dart frog, Dendrobates azureus

When these amazing frogs first appeared in zoos in the 1970s, they created a sensation and remained very rare in collections until the mid-1980s. They are now widespread in captivity, thanks to their popularity. As with other poison dart frogs, captive-bred animals raised on fruit flies and crickets lose their toxic qualities. Found only on a few “islands” of forest, arising out of the Sipaliwini savannah of Suriname and Brazil, they are considered vulnerable to extinction, so that their status as a self-sustaining captive population is especially satisfying.

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Budgett’s frog

Budgett’s frog, Lepdibatrachus laevis

Named after J. S. Budgett, who studied lungfish, bichers, and amhibians in South America and Africa over a hundred years ago, this unique frog could be said to resemble a cross between a hippopotamus and a potato. Even the tadpoles have enormous mouths and are cannibals, making their propagation difficult for amphibian keepers. They do not have teeth, but can inflict painful bites with sharp-edged structures in the jaws. Found in Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia, these relatives of the horned frogs were very rare in captivity before the 1980s.

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Green and black poison dart frog

Green and black poison dart frog, Dendrobates auratus

From Panama and Colombia, this is one of the most familiar of the poison dart frogs in collections, and is considered comparatively easy to keep and breed. It was introduced to the island of Oahu more than 50 years ago, and can be seen in front yards in suburbs of Honolulu. It continues to do well in its native habitat as well.

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