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Poisonous slime is ‘superpower’ of tiny animal found in Smoky Mountains, experts say

Climate change and the red-cheeked salamander

The red-cheeked salamander is a pretty special animal—they breathe through their skin and they don’t live anywhere else in the world except in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. How will climate change affect these unique animals?
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The red-cheeked salamander is a pretty special animal—they breathe through their skin and they don’t live anywhere else in the world except in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. How will climate change affect these unique animals?

A creature “found exclusively” in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is being credited with having a series of bizarre “superpowers” by the National Park Service.

Among the red-cheeked salamander’s powers is the ability to produce toxic ooze, park officials say.

“When attacked, this salamander can bite back and will release poisonous slime from the base of its tail,” warned the National Park Service in a June 17 Facebook post.

Crazier still, the 5-inch-long salamander will “drop its tail as a distraction, allowing escape,” the post noted. And they also “breathe through their skin,” the National Park Service says.

The revelations come at a time when red-cheeked salamanders are showing up in all kinds of unexpected places for tourists in the nation’s “most visited national park.” They are typically found in higher elevations, under things like moss, rocks and logs, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission says.

The poisonous ooze is not known to be fatal to humans, the National Museum of Natural History says. However, people are advised to avoid even the slightest contact with the salamanders, according to Save the Salamanders.

“Although salamanders appear to be relatively inoffensive creatures, all species are poisonous,” says Save the Salamanders. “Poisonous animals are toxic or harmful if you eat them, or ingest their secretions. Poisoning may also occur after handling the animal and then rubbing the eyes or placing the hands in the mouth.”

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known as the “salamander capital of the world” due to the 30 species found there, says the National Park Service. The largest is the “gargantuan” 2-and-a-half-foot Hellbender, officials say.

Watch a silent archival video of President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicating the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940. Video courtesy of Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, the Thompson Family Collection.

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