The eel-like amphibian, named the reticulated siren, is one of the largest animals discovered in the U.S. in decades. 

By Marisa Spyker
December 17, 2018
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If you thought Florida had already met its quota for weird, wild animals, think again.

According to scientists, a giant eel-like creature with beady eyes, leopard spots, and dramatic fan-shaped gills was recently discovered slithering in Sunshine State waters. The new species, named the reticulated siren, is one of the largest amphibians in the world.

But before you start hanging up your swimsuit, be comforted by the fact that the giant salamander only hangs in shallow swamp waters and prefers to fly under the radar, remaining elusive even to the scientists who’ve been searching for it for nearly half a century.

The reticulated siren, which grows to nearly two feet long and is informally called the leopard eel, was first spotted by a biologist in 1970 and flagged as a potential new species. From then on, it remained mere legend to reptile experts, with random word-of-mouth sightings but no concrete data confirming the eel was, in fact, a completely new species.

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Then in 2009, researchers from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and Sul Ross State University in Texas happened upon one that ended up in a turtle trap on the Florida panhandle. Together, they studied the DNA of that specimen—plus three others found years later—and were able to determine the genetic makeup was indeed different from other species of sirens.

While the reticulated siren is currently only known to live in the swamps of the Florida panhandle and southern Alabama, there isn’t enough research to determine the full range and population of the amphibian. The scientists hope the identification of the new species will lead to more interest and funding to discover more about the biology and conservation of it.