My younger brother is well aware of my inordinate fascination with salamanders. A few years ago I received a small illustration from him as a Christmas present. Affixed to the back was a small sticker explaining that the illustration was of a ceremonal flute, a lizard effigy, made by Ye'Kuana Indians in Southern Venezuela/Northern Brazil. At the time, I did wonder why he'd given me an illustration of a lizard. He was more aware that others that a lizard was not a salamander but the image was beautifully detailed and I was happy to have it.
In 2009, Conservation International reported the discovery of a new species of Tropical climbing salamander in the Nangaritza region of southeastern Ecuador. First reports included a few photos but later that year CI provided a video of the salamander. I immediately thought of this illustration and that maybe whoever drew this image could have been wrong. Maybe this was a salamander, and not a lizard, effigy. This newly discovered salamander closely resembles the lizard effigy's erect tail and large head and geographically the location of the Ye'Kuana Indians and salamander are reasonably close.
I didn't know where the gift was originally purchased but it was signed by an artist named Julie Kulak and after some research I was able find an email address for Julie and contact her about the image. She was very helpful in letting me know that she acquired the image from Aurora University's Schingoethe Museum in Aurora, Illinois. She put me in touch with Meg Bero, Executive Director of the Schingoethe Museum and after a few emails back and forth, the trail ended in some notes that the flute was purchased at auction in Mexico in 1998. While I was never able to connect the species that the flute was modeled after or determine what role the lizard/salamander has in their myths and folklore, hopefully I'll have some time for that investigation later. I wonder now whether my younger brother was just a little more observant than I originally thought.