Science: Salamanders on a treadmill

Marion Renault

Unlike the sweaty, red-faced rest of us, these treadmill trekkers are undeniably cute. For a recent study, Ohio State University scientists wanted to find out how far salamanders will travel to find a mate by placing the creatures on custom workout machines. “If you think about the kind of treadmill you use at the gym, it's a similar setup,” says researcher and project leader Rob Denton.

Except this treadmill is 2 feet long, made of soaking wet neoprene and moves at an amphibian's crawl. And a gaggle of scientists doesn't usually hang out to watch your workout.

It also didn't help researchers that salamanders are leery of jogging in the first place. Denton's team had to prod the animals into action by flicking their tails and poking them with a small metal spatula. “These animals are not built to run away from things,” Denton says.

The heartiest among the experimental group trotted for two and a half hours before tuckering out. That's the human equivalent of walking 75 miles for a date. Researchers don't know why the occasional salamanders trek so far to find love—aside from perhaps the obvious.

The OSU scientists have returned the miniature treadmill to its creator, a professor in California. And that's fine with Denton, who's had enough of monitoring amphibian workouts for now. “It's adorable to see them walking on the treadmills, but when you're doing the experiments, it's horribly boring,” he says.