Plethodontidae, the lungless salamanders, is well studied for the myriad of unique behaviors and morphologies. Aposematic coloration, toxic skin secretions, and ballistic tongue feeding are just some of the mechanisms under investigation around the world. My interest in this system is the ability of these salamanders to propel themselves into the air. Unlike most jumpers, plethodontid salamanders don’t possess large hindlimbs suited for this task. Instead, it appears that these salamanders bend and rapidly straighten their torso, providing the momentum required for the jump. In addition to describing this behavior, I’m interested in seeing (using EMG) how the axial musculature powers this ability, as well the role the hind limbs do play in this matter.
The first description of the mechanics behavior I completed and is available online here: Ryerson 2013 – Jumping in the salamander Desmognathus ocoee.
Currently, I’m collaborating with Dr. Lisa Whitenack at Allegheny College, and Anthony Hessel, a former undergraduate at Allegheny now completing his PhD at Northern Arizona University. We have just viewed the tip of this iceberg, and have begun investigations into the parameters affecting jumping behavior, including morphology, temperature, and behavior.
In May 2016, we had our first paper come out in the Journal of Zoology, on the comparative mechanics of jumping in six species of plethodontid salamanders.