May 6, 2005 | David F. Coppedge

How Did Salamanders Migrate from North America to Korea?

Salamanders are not particularly thought of as world travelers.  A new species of lungless salamander of the family Plethodontidae has been found in Korea.  Almost all previous members were found only in North America.  To EurekAlert, reporting on a paper published in Nature,1 this is comparable to “discovering pandas in California or kangaroos in Argentina.”  See also the San Francisco Chronicle article reproduced on the UC Berkeley website.

The new salamander poses a major mystery: How did the tiny lungless amphibians, less than 2 inches long from snout to tail tip, that live on land and breathe through their moist skin, show up in Asia, where all their distant relatives — who are unknown on any other continent — live in the water, mate in the water and breathe with their lungs?   (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

Researcher David B. Wake, an evolutionary biologist at UC Berkeley, called this “the most exciting and unexpected discovery of my career.”  Since an enigmatic case had shown up in Sardinia, he suspects more will be found in between.  The species was named after discoverer Stephen J. Karsen, who teaches at the Taejon Christian International School in Chungcheongnam.  He found it about two years ago while walking with his class in the wooded uplands of South Korea with his students, inviting them to look under rocks.
    Salamander expert David Wake said that herpetologists didn’t bother looking for such creatures in the far east:

“People have gone on expeditions looking for terrestrial salamanders, in places like Kazakhstan and other Central Asian republics,” said Wake.  “They didn’t bother with northern China or Korea or Japan because we thought we knew everything that was there.  And so here (in Korea) they show up, and in the most surprising way, when some guy who’s a high school teacher from Illinois goes out with his class and says, ‘Let’s look for salamanders, let’s see what we can find when we turn over rocks and logs.’”

Wake calls this the most stunning discovery in his lifetime.  “It’s so utterly unexpected, so completely unexpected.”  See also the story on Science Daily.     A press release at Southern Illinois University tells a little about Stephen Karsen and how he wound up looking for Korean salamanders.  The professor at Southern Illinois U that Karsen notified of the find is glad he is getting credit for the discovery, because “humility is a virtue, so I’m sure Steve’s shrugging off the fame.”


1Min, Wake et al., “Discovery of the first Asian plethodontid salamander,” Nature 435, 87-90 (5 May 2005) | doi: 10.1038/nature03474.

Major discoveries can still be made by laymen, even Christian laymen (perhaps better, especially Christian laymen, who believe God created everything, so everything under the sun is worth investigating).  All that is needed is a willingness to challenge orthodoxy and look where the experts say things cannot be found.  One’s worldview affects where one hunts for data.  If you think, “There are no lungless salamanders in Asia because they evolved in North America,” you aren’t going to waste time looking under rocks in Korea.  Congratulations to Stephen Karsen for illustrating this point.  May he encourage all of us to be observant and to challenge the “gospel” of scientific experts.
    Evolutionists sometimes challenge Biblical creationists that animals could not have migrated around the world after the flood from Ararat.  Here we see that evolutionists have similar problems of their own.  We should also be reminded that some salamanders are living fossils, displaying no evolutionary change over 160 million alleged years: see 03/27/2003 story.

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Categories: Terrestrial Zoology

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