The Southern Appalachian Mountains Region is often hailed as the Salamander Capital of the World. In fact, the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute proclaims that the Appalachian region is home to more salamander species than anywhere else in the world, making it a true hotspot for salamander biodiversity. Thanks to the area’s diverse forest and freshwater ecosystems.

Therefore, it is no surprise that I have ventured from my native Canada on several occasions to visit this remarkable place. My April 2015 visit was covered in a piece featured by the Amphibian Survival Alliance (ASA) and can be read here. I returned to the region again in the Autumn of 2015.

My latest exploration to the Southern Appalachians occurred in March 2016. As with my previous trips I was fortunate to observe a multitude of salamanders, comprised of many different species and forms. During this jaunt I visited sites in southern Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.

I also had the immense pleasure of observing several species in the wild for the first time on this latest trip.Many of these endemic species have extremely small ranges. This means the threat of severe declines and extinction is of paramount concern. On my latest trip I observed two such species. The Pigeon Mountain Salamander (Plethodon petraeus) and the Reg-Legged Salamander (Plethodon shermani).

In the case of the Pigeon Mountain Salamander, all known populations in the entire world occur only on the eastern slope of Pigeon Mountain in Georgia. The Red-legged Salamander is found only in the Unicoi and Nantahala mountains in North Carolina. According to AmphibiaWeb, here they have a relatively small and disjunct distribution.

On my previous two trips, I observed another salamander with an extremely small range, the Red-Cheeked Salamander (Plethodon jordani), which occurs on only a few peaks along the Tennessee and North Carolina border.

To see the various salamander species my journey took me to the tops of mountains, in damp forested ravines, swampy seeps, the mouths of caves, and humid woodlands.

The observational records I collected will be sent to the Global Amphibian BioBlitz, which is presented by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, the Amphibian Ark, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission, the Amphibian Specialist Group and the Amphibian Survival Alliance. Such records are used to help gain a better understanding of salamander populations, habitats, ranges, behaviors, morphological variations, and threats.

Below are some highlights of my species encounters. I hope that showcasing the diversity and beauty of these salamanders will inspire an affinity for these amphibians in others! Hopefully this affinity will then spark the desire to get active in the conservation of salamanders. Individuals can find out what they can do to help here. Such efforts to aid in the conservation of these amphibians is crucial as the National Zoo states that With almost half of all salamander species listed as threatened or endangered and populations already declining for unknown reasons, the Appalachian region has become a primary focus of salamander conservation research and planning.

Species Observed During the Spring 2016 Venture

Weller’s Salamander (Plethodon welleri).

Status: Surveys indicate populations are declining. It is currently listed as “In Need of Management” by TWRA. Vulnerable to spruce-fir forest die-offs.


Red-Legged Salamander (Plethodon shermani).

Status: Listed as a Vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This means it is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve.


Pigeon Mountain Salamander (Plethodon petraeus).

Status: Listed as a Vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This means it is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances threatening its survival and reproduction improve.


Blue Ridge Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus orestes).

​Status: NatureServe lists this endemic species as Vulnerable, meaning they are at moderate risk of extinction or elimination due to a restricted range, relatively few populations, recent and widespread declines, or other factors.


Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber).

Status: Common in the Great Smoky Mountains, but is rare in the inner and outer Central Basin of the state (TN).


Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea wilderae).

Status: Abundant throughout their range and one of the most abundant salamanders in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Potential risks include habitat destruction through activities such as clearcutting and acid mine drainage.


Southern Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera).

Status: Abundant throughout their range and populations appear stable. Potential risks include habitat destruction through activities such as clearcutting and acid mine drainage.


Southern ZigZag Salamander (Plethodon ventralis).

Status: Urbanization and conversion of forest into cropland have eliminated many populations, but the species remains common in suitable habitat (Petranka 1998). Most of the habitat loss was not recent. It is probably now stable and not seriously threatened (IUCN).


Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga).

Status: Listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution. However, given its preference for caves and rocky habitats, identification of subpopulations and determination of their status, as well as their threats, is an important priority.


Allegheny Mountain Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus).

Status: Very common. ​There are no major threats of widespread significance. Potential future threats include groundwater extraction which limits the volume of water available in the species habitat.


Spring Salamander – larvae stage (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus).

Status: Least Concern. Deforestation for commercial and residential development, and its impacts on stream conditions are the primary potential threats, but in general this species is secure throughout most of its range.


Slimy Salamander (Plethodon glutinosus).

Status: Least Concern. Intensive harvest of mature forest greatly reduces salamander density in the logged area; population recovery occurs slowly (Herbeck and Larsen 1999). However, logging is not considered to constitute a major threat to the security of the global population.


Southern Ravine Salamander (Plethodon richmondi).

Status: Deforestation and urbanization have eliminated some local subpopulations (Petranka 1998), but overall the species appears to be secure in most of its range.


Southern ‘leadback’ Salamander (​Plethodon serratus).

Status: It is overall unthreatened. Intensive harvest of mature forest greatly reduces salamander density in the logged area; population recovery occurs slowly (Herbeck and Larsen 1999).


Blackbelly Salamander (Desmognathus quadramaculatus).

Status: Locally subpopulations might be depleted through use as fish bait, and streams exposed to acidic leachate from mining could experience negative impacts (Petranka 1998).


Species Observed During the 2015 Ventures

Marbled Salamander (Ambystoma opacum).

Status: Threats to local populations likely include intensive timber harvesting practices that reduce canopy closure, understorey vegetation, uncompacted forest litter, or coarse woody debris (moderately to well-decayed) in areas surrounding breeding sites (deMaynadier and Hunter 1999). Breeding sites are vulnerable to destruction and degradation through draining and filling, and many are being isolated by habitat fragmentation, which could eventually result in deleterious levels of inbreeding and reduced chances of re-establishment of locally extirpated populations. Thousands of local populations already have been eliminated by habitat loss, and more will be lost in the future (Petranka 1998). This species is sometimes found in the international pet trade but at levels that do not currently constitute a major threat (IUCN).


Southern Redback Salamander (​Plethodon serratus).

Status: It is overall unthreatened. Intensive harvest of mature forest greatly reduces salamander density in the logged area; population recovery occurs slowly (Herbeck and Larsen 1999).


White-Spotted Slimy Salamander (Plethodon cylindraceus)

Status: Intensive harvest of mature forest greatly reduces salamander density in the logged area; population recovery occurs slowly (Herbeck and Larsen 1999). However, logging does not constitute a major threat to the security of the global population (IUCN).


Southern Appalachian Salamander (Plethodon teyahalee).

Status: NatureServe lists this endemic species as Vulnerable, meaning they are at moderate risk of extinction or elimination due to a restricted range, relatively few populations, recent and widespread declines, or other factors.


Red-Cheeked Salamander (Plethodon jordani).

Status: NatureServe lists this endemic species as Vulnerable, meaning they are at moderate risk of extinction or elimination due to a restricted range, relatively few populations, recent and widespread declines, or other factors.


Southern Gray-Cheeked Salamander (Plethodon metcalfi).

Status: NatureServe lists this endemic species as Vulnerable, meaning they are at moderate risk of extinction or elimination due to a restricted range, relatively few populations, recent and widespread declines, or other factors.


Red Phased Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamander (Eurycea wilderae).

Status: Abundant throughout their range and one of the most abundant salamanders in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Potential risks include habitat destruction through activities such as clearcutting and acid mine drainage.


Long tailed Salamander (Eurycea longicauda).

Status: Some local subpopulations may have been impacted by strip mining and acid drainage from coal mining, overall this species is not considered to be threatened (IUCN).


Northern Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus fuscus).

Status: Locally, populations of these salamanders are reduced by water pollution from mining runoff and urbanization impacts (Petranka 1998).


Seal salamander (Desmognathus monticola).

Status: Potential threats include decline in water quality from timber harvesting or mining (TWRA).


Pygmy Salamander (Desmognathus wrighti).

Status: Pygmy Salamanders are considered imperiled and very rare in TN. In 1994, TWRA listed the Black Mountain Salamander as “In Need of Management.” Populations are in jeopardy due to loss of habitat from logging activities, increased recreational development, and stream pollution.


Imitator salamander (Desmognathus imitator).

Status: Abundant in typical habitats. This species is found in higher numbers in undisturbed sites, but population is not threatened by logging or mining within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TWRA).


Green salamander (Aneides aeneus).

Status: The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency describes the Green Salamander as rarely seen and uncommon. Petranka (1998) states that the Green Salamander is patchily distributed and generally uncommon throughout most of its range. It was truly an immense pleasure and privilege to see this animal in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Green Salamander as a species that may be considered threatened with extinction in the near future.


Midland Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus diastictus).​

Status: According to Amphibaweb, little is known about the Mud Salamander’s abundance. It is a secretive, often subterranean species. It is not uncommon for decades to pass between sightings despite intense collection efforts at a given location. ​

Appalachian Salamanders

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