Err... not that kind of Siren.
|Image: Ashley Tubbs|
Lesser Siren (Siren intermedia)
What do they have against lighthouses, anyway? I love a good lighthouse. They're so warm and romantic yet lonely and stoic. I particularly like the ones that rest on tiny islets completely surrounded by the raging sea.
|Image: Todd Pierson|
Sirens belong to a strange family of salamanders known as Sirenidae. They're so strange you can actually divide all salamanders into two groups: Sirens, and the rest.
Northern Dwarf Salamander (Pseudobranchus striatus)
In terms of distribution, Florida seems quite the hotspot for Siren kind. All four Sirens can be found there. The Eastern, or Everglades, Dwarf Siren (P. axanthus) lives nowhere else. Meanwhile, the Lesser Siren (S. intermedia) is the most widespread being found all around the eastern United States, across to Texas and northern Mexico and north to some of the states bordering Canada.
Greater Siren (Siren lacertina)
One thing they all have in common is that none of them is any help to the shoe-making industry. They just don't have much use for shoes. And it's not just because lack of shoes is a common trait among most wild animals. Sirens also have a lack of legs. They have no hind legs whatsoever! Their front legs meanwhile are remarkably tiny, and Dwarf Sirens have just three toes on each foot compared to the other Siren's more typical four.
With this dearth of legs and tootsies it's no surprise to learn that Siren s aren't one for climbing up trees, running across prairies or even strolling in the park. Sirens are very much aquatic. They like shallow ponds and swamps where a muddy bottom and a dense growth of weeds provide them with lots of places to hide.
|Image: Todd Pierson|
Southern Dwarf Siren (Pseudobranchus axanthus)
Sirens don't eat chocolate, poor guys. They prefer all manner of meaty mouthfuls found in their aquatic home. Snails, worms, shrimp and, if the Siren's mouth is big enough, small fish. Also algae, because it doesn't hurt to vary your diet at least a little. Siren's are rather lacking in dentition and the whole front of their mouth is completely toothless, replaced with a kind of beak.
All this feeding occurs at night, since Siren's are nocturnal. They spend the day nestled among the weeds or buried in the mud. They can also do something similar if the pond they're residing in magically disappears into thin air, or "dries up" as we call it. They can burrow underground, encase themselves in a cocoon of mucus and sleep through the driest months, much like the Lungfish... who is also known as the Salmanderfish. Kindred spirits! I think I'll doing something similar this winter, but using blankets rather than my own mucus. We're ALL kindred spirits! I'm not Salamander Man, though. That guy is just weird.
With all that day to day living sorted out, it's time for our Sirens to focus on more exciting things. Unfortunately, not much is known about their reproduction. It's thought that they probably use external fertilisation since their cloaca, the universal, all-in-one (or all-out-of-one) orifice that amphibians, birds and reptiles use for all their evacuatory needs, lacks the kind of glands and doodads other salamanders have.
Either way, the eggs hatch after a few weeks into lots of titchy, Siren tadpoles. They have a long dorsal fin to help with swimming, no legs at all and even their gills are small and don't work well at first since they can do all their breathing straight through their skin.
As the Siren grows, its tail will become longer, it'll lose a lot of its fin and gain a couple legs and bushier gills. So it will change, just not a lot!