Slimy & Jordan's Salamanders

Plethodon glutinosis & P. jordani
Monday, July 12, 2010
Northern Slimy Salamander

Plethodon glutinosis

            The northern slimy salamander is found, though not too commonly, throughout the Mountain Lake region.

            The adults are generally characterized by a dark or slate-colored body, irregularly and liberally flecked with silver-white or bronze spots. The underside is slightly lighter and unflecked. The average length is around 12.1-17.2 cm, with a record of 20.6 cm. They have 16 costal grooves (grooves present along the sides of the salamander, between the front and back legs), although occasional specimens may have 15 or 17. Like all plethodonids, there is no aquatic larval stage; the young are born with a dark coloration and less distinctive flecks. Females are generally slightly larger than males. They earn their name, “slimy” salamanders, from the slimy secretions that they release from the base of their tail when handled. These secretions can harden on one’s hands and be very difficult to remove.

            Slimy salamanders, as a group, were formerly classified as one species, with a range covering much of the eastern US. However, through genetic testing, the species has been divided into 13 different species, collectively called the Plethodon glutinosis complex. Most of these species are indistinguishable in the field, and can only be discovered through biochemical testing. The northern slimy salamander is the only species present in our area.

            Adult female slimy salamanders lay 4-12 eggs in late spring or summer in cavities under logs or rocks, or occasionally under moss or dead leaves. The young hatch in around three months, after which they grow steadily. Since the young have no aquatic stage, they grow without transformation for about three years, after which both males and females are sexually mature. Breeding in slimy salamanders involves an elaborate courtship dance. After breeding, a female will guard her eggs fiercely.

            Slimy salamanders eat a wide variety of invertebrates, most notably ants and beetles. They are predated by most of the usual predators of salamanders: snakes, birds, small mammals, etc.

            This specimen is a juvenile, captured by Leleña under a snake board behind the Wilbur Lab.


Jordan’s Salamander

Plethodon jordani

            Jordan’s Salamander, also called the Appalachian Salamander or the Red-Cheeked Salamander (for one of its morphs), is a polymorphic species that occurs in a large variety of different forms. It also has a very localized range, present only in south-western Virginia and small parts of North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. It is a high-elevation salamander, so its range is actually constricted to 28 mountaintops inside its range. It is not native to the Mountain Lake area; rather, it was introduced to the biological station in 1935 by a class releasing specimens into Hunter’s Branch that were collected in the Mount Rogers area (to which it is native). Since then, they have spread several hundred meters; this specimen was again collected by Leleña under a snake board near the salamander tubs behind Wilbur Lab.

            Jordan’s Salamander is currently considered one species, but because of its wide variance, its status is uncertain. Some propose that Jordan’s Salamander be subdivided into three distinct species.

            Generally, P. jordani is dark on its ventral side, and lighter on the dorsal side. Different morphs include dark with red cheeks, dark with red legs, dark with gray cheeks, black with bronze speckling, and, as seen here, just plain dark. Most morphs are lighter under the chin. They generally range from 9-12.5 cm, with the record at 18.4 cm. They, like the slimy salamander, have 16 costal grooves, and a fairly similar body structure (both being plethodonids). 

The Jordan’s Salamander lives a fairly similar life in terms of breeding, food, habitat, etc. to the slimy salamander, and is even known to hybridize where their ranges touch, creating an unpredictable combination of traits in those areas.

Articles by Hazel Galloway