White-spotted Slimy Salamander
© 2010 Dr. Stephen G. Tilley (1 of 12)
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
Plethodon cylindraceus (Harlan, 1825[b])
David A. Beamer1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. White-spotted slimy salamanders (Plethodon cylindraceus) occur in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Physiographic Provinces of Virginia and North Carolina, west to the French Broad River and south to the Northern Piedmont of South Carolina. They also occur in parts of the Valley and Ridge Physiographic province in western Virginia and extreme eastern West Virginia, and in a small area of the Coastal Plain Physiographic Province of eastern Virginia. Of 14 populations sampled prior to 1988 and re-sampled in 1993 or later, Highton (2003) could find no animals in three, under similar sampling conditions and with a similar effort. These sites will need to be resurveyed to determine whether Highton's data reflect true declines or natural population fluctuations.
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Highton (2003) found evidence of declines in all 14 white-spotted slimy salamander populations he sampled during the past four decades. In 13 of these populations, declines appeared precipitous, with recent (1990s) numbers fewer than half of pre-1990s numbers. These sites must be resurveyed to determine whether Highton's data reflect real declines or natural population fluctuations.
Gordon et al. (1962) compared their collection to a collection made by Dunn 44 yr earlier. The collections were made in the same area, though there had been at least one lumbering of the area between the collections. The number of white-spotted slimy salamanders was nearly identical in the two collections.
Clearcuts negatively affect populations of white-spotted slimy salamanders. Petranka et al. (1993, 1994) found that these salamanders occur in much higher numbers in mature forests than in clearcuts. Petranka (1998) states that deforestation and the conversion of mixed hardwood forests to pine monocultures has eliminated or reduced a large number of eastern Plethodon populations. However, Ash (1988, 1997) and Ash and Bruce (1994) have strongly disagreed with Petranka's estimates and do not consider forestry practices to be having as strong an impact on native salamanders.
3. Life History Features.
A. Breeding. Reproduction is terrestrial. The frequency of males closely associated with females beneath cover objects is much higher in the spring than at other times of the year. Wells (1980) believes that this strongly suggests that courtship occurs in April and May in a population from Durham County, North Carolina.
Organ (1960a) observed courtship of captive individuals from Whitetop Mountain, Virginia, throughout September. Males place their nasolabial grooves and mental glands in contact with the female’s body. The male then begins a foot dance that involves raising and lowering the rear limbs simultaneously or alternately. The male then moves towards the female’s head while repeatedly rubbing his nasolabial grooves on the female. Occasionally, the male will grasp the female’s body or tail with his mouth. When the male reaches the female's head he rubs his mental gland over her head and nasolabial grooves. The male then pushes his head under her chin and passes beneath her, undulating his tail as it passes under the female’s chin. When the male stops moving forward, the female straddles his tail and then the pair moves forward while the female maintains a straddled position. While moving forward, the male often flexes his body laterally and slaps the female with his mental gland. The pair then moves forward until the spermatophore is deposited. Just prior to depositing a spermatophore, the male begins a series of lateral sacral movements while the female moves her head laterally in synchronization with but counter to the male’s movements. The male then lowers his vent to the substrate and deposits a spermatophore. After the spermatophore is deposited, the male withdraws his tail and bends it sharply to one side. The female keeps her chin against the sharply bent tail while the pair moves forward until the vent of the female reaches the spermatophore. The female then picks up the cap from the spermatophore with her cloacal lips.
i. Breeding migrations. Undocumented, but breeding migrations are not known for any Plethodon species.
ii. Breeding habitat. Unknown.
B. Eggs. Examination of preserved material from the Durham area suggests that oviposition probably occurs in late summer or early fall (Wells, 1980).
i. Egg deposition sites. Unknown, but likely to be in underground cavities.
ii. Clutch size. Unknown.
C. Direct Development.
i. Brood sites. Unknown.
ii. Parental care. Unknown, but it is likely that females brood, as with other members of the slimy salamander complex.
D. Juvenile Habitat. First-year young (20 mm SVL) were found beneath logs in Durham County, North Carolina, in early March (Wells and Wells, 1976).
E. Adult Habitat. White-spotted slimy salamanders have been recorded from both virgin and second-growth forest (Dunn, 1917a; Gordon et al., 1962).
White-spotted slimy salamanders in Durham County, North Carolina, were found in second-growth oak-hickory forest on a gently sloping hill. The ground had a thick layer of leaf litter and a large number of fallen logs were present while rocks and other cover was lacking (Wells and Wells, 1976). Salamanders were found frequently beneath logs but did not seem to occupy the leaf litter even in wet periods (Wells, 1980).
F. Home Range Size. The maximum distance moved by a white-spotted slimy salamander in Durham County, North Carolina, was 91.5 m, though most adults moved < 9 m. Juveniles are more sedentary, and only one juvenile moved > 9 m. Most juvenile movements were < 6 m. White-spotted slimy salamanders between 55 and 65 mm SVL made the largest movements (30–90 m). Individuals > 65 mm rarely moved > 18 m (Wells and Wells, 1976). The most distant movements are made shortly after reaching sexual maturity.
G. Territories. Data from Wells (1980) show that juveniles and females do not avoid occupied cover objects. Males, however, may defend sites from other males.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. During droughts, groups of salamanders ranging from 10–25 animals are found under large logs. This behavior was observed in a period of drought and may reduce the rate of desiccation (Wells and Wells, 1976).
I. Seasonal Migrations. Animals likely move from surface sites to underground sites with seasonal changes in temperature and moisture conditions.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Wells (1980) states that the entire white-spotted slimy salamander population disappeared into underground retreats for the winter shortly after 13 November.
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. In Avery County, North Carolina, white-spotted slimy salamanders were found with eastern newts (Notophthalmus viridescens), Blue Ridge dusky salamanders (Desmognathus orestes), seal salamanders (D. monticola), red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), Yonahlossee salamanders (P. yonahlossee), northern gray-cheeked salamanders (P. montanus), and Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders (Eurycea wilderae; Gordon et al., 1962).
Green salamanders (Aneides aeneus), Yonahlossee salamanders, and Blue Ridge gray-cheeked salamanders (P. amplus) were found on a cliff face with white-spotted slimy salamanders in Rutherford County, North Carolina (Rubin, 1969). Ocoee salamanders (Desmognathus ocoee) also have been reported from these same crevices (Adler and Dennis, 1962).
Hairston (1949) reports the following salamanders along with white-spotted slimy salamanders from the Black Mountains area, Yancey County, North Carolina: spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus), red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber), Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders, black-bellied salamanders (Desmognathus quadramaculatus), seal salamanders, Carolina mountain dusky salamanders (D. carolinensis), pygmy salamanders (D. wrighti), shovel-nosed salamanders (D. marmoratus), Yonahlossee salamanders, and northern gray-cheeked salamanders.
At Limestone Cove, Unicoi County, Tennessee, white-spotted slimy salamanders were found with Yonahlossee salamanders, Weller’s salamanders (P. welleri), eastern newts, seal salamanders, Carolina mountain dusky salamanders, and black-bellied dusky salamanders (Thurow, 1963).
White-spotted slimy salamanders, Cow Knob salamanders (P. punctatus), and Shenandoah Mountain salamanders (P. virginia) are known from Shenandoah Mountain. There may be competitive exclusion between white-spotted slimy salamanders and Cow Knob salamanders, as usually only one or the other are found locally. There are no published data on the association of white-spotted slimy salamanders with Shenandoah Mountain salamanders there (Highton, 1972, 1989, 1999).
White-spotted slimy salamanders are found with red-backed salamanders, southern ravine salamanders (P. richmondi), and Yonahlossee salamanders at Comer’s Rock, Grayson-Wythe counties, Virginia (Dodd, 1989).
In the Peaks of Otter region of Virginia, white-spotted slimy salamanders are sympatric with Peaks of Otter salamanders (P. hubrichti), red-backed salamanders, southern two-lined salamanders (Eurycea cirrigera), and seal salamanders (Thurow, 1957; Mitchell and Wicknick, this volume).
White-spotted slimy salamanders have a long contact from southeastern Virginia to western South Carolina with Atlantic Coast slimy salamanders (P. chlorobryonis). Two transects, one in southeastern Virginia and one in northeastern North Carolina, indicate that there is a zone of parapatric hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
White-spotted slimy salamanders have a long contact with northern slimy salamanders (P. glutinosus) from Maryland south through West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee, from the Potomac River to the French Broad River. Hybrid populations are known from Washington County, Maryland; and Highland, Washington, and Smyth counties, Virginia (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
White-spotted slimy salamanders probably contact Southern Appalachian salamanders (P. teyahalee) along the North Carolina–South Carolina state line at the headwaters of the French Broad River. There are no data on their genetic interaction (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
White-spotted slimy salamanders have a long contact from southeastern Virginia to western South Carolina with Atlantic Coast slimy salamanders. Two transects, one in southeastern Virginia and one in northeastern North Carolina, indicate that there is a zone of parapatric hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
White-spotted slimy salamanders are sympatric with Yonahlossee salamanders at intermediate elevations throughout much of the Blue Ridge Province east of the French Broad River. There is no evidence of hybridization between these species (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
White-spotted slimy salamanders are sympatric throughout the range of South Mountain gray-cheeked salamanders (P. meridianus). There is no evidence of hybridization between these species (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
White-spotted slimy salamanders are widely sympatric throughout the range of Blue Ridge gray-cheeked salamanders. There is no evidence of hybridization between these species (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
White-spotted slimy salamanders are sympatric at the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge isolate of southern gray-cheeked salamanders (P. metcalfi). There is no evidence of hybridization between these species (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
White-spotted slimy salamanders are widely sympatric with northern gray-cheeked salamanders in the Blue Ridge province in the Black and Bald isolates, and most of the Roan isolate. There is no evidence of hybridization between these species (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
In the Black Mountains, Yancey County, North Carolina, white-spotted slimy salamanders and northern gray-cheeked salamanders generally replace each other altitudinally. On four of five transects there was no overlap of these species occurrences; at a fifth transect, the two occur together over an elevational range of about 60 m (Hairston, 1951).
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. The neotype is an adult female, 76 mm SVL. The smallest sexually mature males in Durham County, North Carolina, were 50 mm SVL (Wells and Wells, 1976).
M. Longevity. Unknown.
N. Feeding Behavior. The stomachs of five white-spotted slimy salamanders (average size 54.6 mm SVL) from Rutherford County, North Carolina, contained ants (22.0%), centipedes (11.0%), springtails (9.6%), camel crickets (7.0%), slugs (7.0%), millipedes (6.8%), snout beetles (6.0%), and earthworms (4.0%; Rubin, 1969).
The stomach contents of 58 white-spotted slimy salamanders from Johnston County, Tennessee, contained Collembola, Corrodentia, Membracidae, Cicadellidae, Miridae, lepidopteran larvae, Heterocera, Asilidae, culicid larvae, Diptera and dipteran larvae, Cantharidae, Carabidae, Curculionidae, Elateridae, Latheridiidae, Scaphidiidae, Scarabeidae, Staphylinidae, Tenebrionidae, coleopteran larvae, Formicidae, Vespidae, Phalangida, Chelonethida, Araneida, Acarina, Diplopoda, Chilopoda, Lumbricidae, and Pulmonata (Pope, 1950).
The stomach contents of 94 white-spotted slimy salamanders from Augusta County, Virginia, included snails, sowbugs, earthworms, centipedes, millipedes, arachnids, phalangids, pseudoscorpions, a roach, Homoptera, Hemiptera, Diptera, lepidopteran larvae, Coleoptera, coleopteran larvae, and Hymenoptera (note the stomach contents of six northern slimy salamanders are also included in this list). Sowbugs and earthworms were commonly eaten in the spring while phalangids, pseudoscorpians, roaches, homopterans, hemipterans and lepidopteran larvae were eaten in the fall. The largest food item was a centipede (45 mm), and another stomach contained 10 buprestid larvae (Davidson, 1956).
O. Predators. Garter snakes (Thamnophis sp.) and copperheads (Agkistrodon contortrix) feed on white-spotted slimy salamanders in the George Washington National Forest in Virginia (Uhler et al., 1939).
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. All Plethodon produce noxious skin secretions (Brodie, 1977). Members of the Plethodon glutinosus complex frequently become immobile when initially contacted. White-spotted slimy salamanders were included in a field study on immobility, however it is not possible to separate their behavior from the other members of this complex in this published data set. Immobility may increase survival by making salamanders less likely to be detected, especially by visually oriented predators (Dodd, 1989).
Q. Diseases. Unknown.
R. Parasites. Rankin (1937) reported the following parasites from salamanders that were likely white-spotted slimy salamanders: Cryptobia borreli, Cytamoba bacterifera, Eutrichomastix batrachorum, Haptophyra gigantean, Haptophyra michiganensis, Hexamastix batrachorum, Hexamitus intestinalis, Karotomorpha swezi, Prowazekella longifilis, Tririchomonas augusta, Brachycoelium hospitae, Capillaria inequalis, Cosmocercoides dukae, Oswaldocruzia pipiens, Oxyuris magnavulvaris, Acanthocephalus acutulus, and Hannemania dunni.
4. Conservation. White-spotted slimy salamanders are not protected by any state. Among members of the P. glutinosus complex, white-spotted slimy salamanders have one of the widest distributions. Within this range, there are many federal and state properties that contain suitable habitat for these salamanders.
White-spotted slimy salamanders are relatively resilient to disturbances, such as those associated with timbering operations, and frequently found in second-growth forests and relatively small, fragmented woodlots (Gordon et al., 1962; D.A.B., personal observations). However, clearcuts negatively affect populations (Petranka et al., 1993, 1994; but see Ash, 1988, 1997, and Ash and Bruce, 1994).
As with all species of Plethodon, white-spotted slimy salamanders do not migrate to breeding grounds and they do not have large home ranges. Thus, they can exist in habitats of smaller size than many other amphibian species. Conservation activities that promote mature closed-canopy forests should benefit this species
Acknowledgments. Thanks to Richard Highton, who reviewed this account and gave us the benefit of his insight and experience.
1David A. Beamer
2Michael J. Lannoo
Literature references for Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo, are here.
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