Southeastern Oklahoma harbors an interesting set of reptiles and amphibians, dominated by species typical of southeastern deciduous forests. However, a small group of related salamanders are endemic to the east to west chain of mountains collectively known as the Ouachita Mountains. Also known as the Interior Highlands, these are the only mountains between the Appalachian Mountains to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the West. Each mountain has a name (e.g., Kiamichi Mountains, Winding Stair, Boktuklos, Rich Mountain), and almost all have their own endemic salamander species. The salamanders have been collectively called “slimy salamanders” and are in a large group of salamanders known as lungless salamaders (Family Plethodontidae). They are “slimy” because they produce a viscous liquid from glands in the skin that is first slimy, but then sticky. They are “lungless” because they do not have lungs, but rather breath entirely through their skin!
Slimy salamanders of the Ouachita Mountains have recently been studied in detail by Dr. Don Shepard, formerly a graduate student at the University of Oklahoma and here in the Sam Noble Museum. One of the salamanders is shown above and a future blog will detail what Don has discovered about these interesting salamanders.
Another interesting point about southeastern Oklahoma is a growing interest in Bigfoot, the large, hairy, man-like beast that purportedly runs wild in the forests near the tiny town of Honobia. A fall festival (the Bigfoot Festival) occurs each year in which various groups attempting to gather evidence of Bigfoot’s existence meet and discuss their findings. Honobia is remote and located equidistant from Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Shreveport. Limited lodging is available at Dancing Rain Ranch and the Honobia Creek Country Store, with additional lodging in Talihina. Each year, Bigfoot researchers claim to have gathered additional evidence, but firm verifiable physical evidence that Bigfoot exists has still not been presented to the public. Perhaps in the next few years, Bigfoot will step on a slimy salamander and lose some hair so that DNA can be collected and analyzed—but please, don’t hold your breath, unless you are a slimy salamander!