The two-inch-long, “neotenic” Jollyville Plateau salamander retains gills for its entire life and spends all its time underwater, inhabiting springs, spring runs and wet caves fed by the Edwards Aquifer in central Texas. Research shows that as urban development booms, this salamander's population declines — and with good reason, since development exposes the sensitive amphibian, its eggs and its invertebrate prey to major water pollution, which is already causing salamander deformities and death. Now the Jollyville Plateau salamander faces the scariest single threat of all: a massive water-treatment plant planned in, and adjacent to, its home.

Just discovered in 2000, this salamander has declined dramatically in population even in the past decade. And in fact, the salamander is likely two species, or at least two distinct populations — a “plateau” population and a “peripheral” population — divided by a major highway. Individually, each unique type of the Jollyville Plateau salamander is even more endangered than the species as it's currently defined, since each population has an even more limited range and smaller numbers.

To save the Jollyville Plateau salamander before its habitat is polluted beyond redemption, in 2010 the Center and the Save Our Springs Alliance filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service if it didn't list the species on an emergency basis, as well as filing a scientific petition to list the species. The salamander has been a “candidate” for Endangered Species Act protection since 2007, after a Save Our Springs Alliance petition and lawsuit. In 2011 the Center reached a landmark agreement with the Service compelling the agency to move forward in the protection process for 757 species, including the Jollyville Plateau salamander and many other candidates — but since the Service still failed to give the salamander the emergency protection it needs, we filed another notice of intent to sue in early 2012. Just months later, the Service proposed the salamander (and three others) for protection.

In 2013, the Service protected the Jollyville Plateau salamander as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act with 4,331 acres of protected habitat in Travis and Williamson counties, Texas.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Piers Hendrie