Desmognathus santeetlah
Santeetlah Dusky Salamander
Subgenus: Desmognathus
family: Plethodontidae
subfamily: Plethodontinae

© 2010 Dr. Stephen G. Tilley (1 of 12)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Least Concern (LC)
NatureServe Status Use NatureServe Explorer to see status.
Other International Status None
National Status None
Regional Status None


View distribution map using BerkeleyMapper.


bookcover The following account is modified from Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo (©2005 by the Regents of the University of California), used with permission of University of California Press. The book is available from UC Press.

Desmognathus santeetlah Tilley, 1981
Santeetlah Dusky Salamander

Carlos D. Camp1
Stephen G. Tilley2

1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Santeetlah dusky salamanders (Desmognathus santeetlah) occur at higher elevations in the Unicoi, Great Smoky, Great Balsam, and Cheoah mountains in the southern Appalachians (Tilley, 2000a).

2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Unknown. Currently, Santeetlah dusky salamanders may be abundant along small streams flowing through mesic, high elevation forests (Jones, 1986) and on wet rock faces (Tilley, 2000b).

3. Life History Features.

A. Breeding.

i. Breeding migrations. Unknown.

ii. Breeding habitat. Mating presumably takes place in habitats where other activities (e.g., foraging) take place. Courtship is virtually identical to that described for the closely related northern dusky salamander (D. fuscus) and involves the “tail-straddle walk” typical of plethodontids (Maksymovitch and Verrell, 1992).

B. Eggs.

i. Egg deposition sites. Females oviposit and brood their egg clutches in cavities excavated in moss, rotting logs, or soil within a few centimeters of shallow, flowing surface water. The most abundant nesting site observed by Jones (1986) in the Unicoi Mountains was under moss atop logs in seepage areas. He found nests from 16–83 cm from open water. These were often vertical distances, because clutches commonly were on top of logs lying in shallow water. Incubation time for eggs kept in the laboratory at 20 ˚C is approximately 7 wk (Jones, 1986).

ii. Clutch size. Clutch size averages 17–20 eggs in the Great Smoky Mountains (Tilley, 1988) and 21 eggs in the Unicoi Mountains (Jones, 1986). In both areas, clutch sizes are slightly smaller than in nearby populations of spotted dusky salamanders (D. conanti). Egg number is positively related to female body size. Santeetlah dusky salamanders, however, produce significantly more eggs/mm SVL than spotted dusky salamanders (Jones, 1986).

C. Larvae/Metamorphosis.

i. Length of larval stage. Jones (1986) estimated that larvae metamorphose in slightly < 1 yr in the Unicoi Mountains.

ii. Larval requirements.

a. Food. Larvae probably feed on small, aquatic invertebrates.

b. Cover. Larvae occur in shallow water in small streams and seepages, which are common nesting sites (Jones, 1986).

iii. Larval polymorphisms. Unknown.

iv. Features of metamorphosis. Newly metamorphosed Santeetlah dusky salamanders measure 9–10 mm in SVL (Jones, 1986).

v. Post-metamorphic migrations. Unknown.

vi. Neoteny. Unknown.

D. Juvenile Habitat. Similar to that of adults.

E. Adult Habitat. Santeetlah dusky salamanders occur under cover along small streams and seepages in mesic, high elevation forests (Jones, 1986). They may be found several meters into the surrounding forest (Petranka, 1998), but usually occur in or within a few centimeters of surface water. They also may be abundant on wet cliff faces (Tilley, 2000b).

F. Home Range Size. Unknown.

G. Territories. Unknown.

H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Unlikely. Jones (1986) and Tilley (2000b) found them to be active during the summer.

I. Seasonal Migrations. Unknown.

J. Torpor (Hibernation). Unknown.

K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. This species may occur syntopically with Ocoee salamanders (D. ocoee), imitator salamanders (D. imitator), black-bellied salamanders (D. quadramaculatus), pigmy salamanders (D. wrighti), Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders (Eurycea wilderae), and spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus). Santeetlah dusky salamanders are abundant on wet rock faces < 1,600 m in the Plott Balsam Mountains of North Carolina. On rock faces > 1,600 m, where imitator salamanders are abundant, Santeetlah dusky salamanders are uncommon or absent. Ocoee salamanders are present but uncommon on all the rock faces. Because Santeetlah dusky salamanders are found at higher elevations elsewhere, they may be excluded from these sites by imitator salamanders (Tilley, 2000b). Female Santeetlah dusky salamanders may competitively exclude female Ocoee and imitator salamanders from surface brooding sites in the Great Smoky and Great Balsam mountains (Tilley, 1981).

In the Unicoi Mountains, Santeetlah dusky salamanders and spotted dusky salamanders (D. conanti) occur parapatrically (Tilley, 1981). The two species hybridize along the northwestern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains (Tilley, 1981, 1988). Santeetlah dusky salamanders exhibit complete sexual isolation with sympatric populations of Ocoee salamanders and imitator salamanders (Verrell, 1990a) and partial isolation from allopatric populations of spotted dusky salamanders (Verrell, 1990b).

L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Santeetlah dusky salamanders reach sexual maturity at 30 mm and 33–35 mm SVL for males and females, respectively. Males mature at approximately 2 yr, and females mature a year later at 3 yr (Jones, 1986).

M. Longevity. Unknown. However, Ocoee salamanders are similar in size and reach a maximum age of at least 10 yr (Castanet et al., 1996).

N. Feeding Behavior. Santeetlah dusky salamanders probably feed heavily on small arthropods as do other medium-sized species of Desmognathus (Fitzpatrick, 1973; Keen, 1979), including members of the D. fuscus complex (Barbour and Lancaster, 1946; Sites, 1978).

O. Predators. Unreported. Predators probably include woodland birds, small mammals, and snakes. Spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus), which may occur syntopically with Santeetlah dusky salamanders at some sites, are known to feed heavily on small salamanders (Bruce, 1979).

P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Unreported. They are presumably the same as in other desmognathines, i.e., flight, writhing, biting, and tail autotomy (Labanick, 1984; Brodie et al., 1989; Hileman and Brodie, 1994).

Q. Diseases. Unknown.

R. Parasites. Unknown. Other species of semi-aquatic and semi-terrestrial desmognathines harbor a parasite fauna that includes endoparasitic nematodes, trematodes, and tapeworms (Goater et al., 1987) and ectoparasitic leeches (Goater, 2000).

4. Conservation. A substantial portion of the geographic range of Santeetlah dusky salamanders falls within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These populations, therefore, are protected from such environmental disturbances as mining and timber harvesting. Populations outside park boundaries, however, are potentially vulnerable. Santeetlah dusky salamanders are largely restricted to stream-headwater habitats that can be degraded by logging, road building, construction, and the activities of feral hogs. The last of these disruptions is particularly important in the Unicoi Mountains (S.G.T., personal observations). Petranka et al. (1993) estimated that the clearcut logging of Appalachian forests of North Carolina during the 1980s and early 1990s killed millions of salamanders, including desmognathine salamanders, each year. Ash and Bruce (1993), however, disputed these estimates and considered them to be exaggerations of the actual number killed. Desmognathine salamanders currently are abundant in areas of the southern Appalachians (the Great Smoky Mountains) that have been logged extensively in the past (S.G.T., personal observations). Populations of Santeetlah salamanders occupying high elevation sites in the southern Appalachians may also be vulnerable to the effects of acid precipitation.

1Carlos D. Camp
Department of Biology
Piedmont College
Demorest, Georgia 30535

2Stephen G. Tilley
Department of Biology
Smith College
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Literature references for Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo, are here.

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