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Giant Salamander With Leopard Spots Found In Florida

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Marshlands in Florida where previously undiscovered salamander species might be hiding. Scientists were finally able to name and describe a creature that has long been the subject of rumors. The creatures live in muddy waters in Florida and Alabama.   ( Paul Brennan | Pixabay )

A long-rumored creature described to have features like an eel and a leopard has been discovered in Florida.

Recorded sightings stretch back to the 70s but until now, only few can vouch for its existence. However, in a new paper, scientists finally and officially described the creature, naming it the "reticulated siren."

The paper was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Florida's Swamp Monster

David Steen, a biologist, had his first contact with the swamp creature back in 2009. He was pulling his turtle traps from the waters around the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida when he found the creature resting comfortably inside.

However, he first heard rumors of the undiscovered giant salamander species back in 2007 as a graduate student at Auburn University in Alabama. At the time, he and a fellow graduate student, Sean Graham, devised a plan to find and capture the creatures in the hopes of describing it.

Steen took more than two years to finally capture the first giant salamander and another five years to catch three more.

"It was surreal to see after years of talking about this creature — it was kind of a mystical, mythical beast," said Steen. "It's so unlike most other creatures that we share the planet with."

The reticulated siren or S. reticulata is an aquatic salamander that has a slimy body similar to an eel and with spots on its skin similar to a leopard. It has two forelegs but no backlegs, and gills on its head. This creature is about the size of a Hellbender, the largest salamander in North America.

Steen explained that the reason why it took so long for scientists to find the creatures is that the reticulated sirens live in muddy waters where people do not normally go for leisure. The creatures were also similar to another species, the greater siren.

The Reticulated Siren's Future

Now that it has officially been described, the researchers hope to continue studying the creature. Steen said that many details are still needed to be uncovered about the reticulated siren, but he said that it was time to prove its existence, especially if it needs protection.

While the paper does not discuss the conservation status of the reticulated sirens, a press release about the discovery claims that the creatures are "at least vulnerable to population declines."

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