Cheat Mountain Salamander
© 2016 Alexander Murray (1 of 12)
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
Plethodon nettingi Green, 1938(b)
Thomas K. Pauley1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Cheat Mountain salamanders (Plethodon nettingi) are endemic to the eastern highlands of West Virginia. They inhabit what is presently or was historically red spruce forests. Initially, their range was thought to be limited to Cheat Mountain at elevations above 1,067 m in Randolph and Pocahontas counties (Green, 1938b; Brooks, 1945, 1948b). Later inventories expanded their range to include Pendleton and Tucker counties (Highton, 1971, 1986f; Pauley, 1980a,b, 1981, 1986, 1987). More recent inventories have expanded their total range to include the eastern edge of Grant County and their elevational range down to 750 m (Pauley, 1991a).
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Unknown historically. From 1976–2000, Pauley (unpublished data) surveyed 1,300 sites within their known total range and has located Cheat Mountain salamanders in 60 disjunct populations. They are fairly abundant in some populations but appear to be scarce in others.
3. Life History Features. Their life history and biology have been summarized by Green and Pauley (1987) and Petranka (1998). Mental hedonic gland-cluster is discussed by Dodd and Brodie (1976).
A. Breeding. Reproduction is terrestrial.
i. Breeding migrations. This species does not migrate.
ii. Breeding habitat. Breeding activities of Cheat Mountain salamanders have not been observed, but most likely occur on the forest floor. Pairs of males and females have been found under rocks in the spring and autumn. Both sexes during these months are in breeding condition: males with swollen cloacas and squared-off snouts, females with mature follicles (gravid).
i. Egg deposition sites. Nests have been found in decayed logs and beneath rock on the surface of the ground in red spruce forests or in deciduous forests (Green and Pauley, 1987).
ii. Clutch size. Numbers of eggs/clutch vary from 4–17 (Brooks, 1948b).
C. Direct Development. Spermatophores probably are deposited in late spring; mating may also occur in the fall. Nests with attending females have been found from 28 April–15 August (Brooks, 1948b; Green and Pauley, 1987). Eggs hatch in late August to early September. Young of the year averaging 1.8 cm TL were observed in a nest with an attending female in September (Green and Pauley, 1987).
D. Juvenile Habitat. Juveniles have been found in the same habitat as adults.
E. Adult Habitat. Cheat Mountain salamanders are found in spruce, hemlock, or deciduous stands with scattered spruce and hemlock above 750 m in elevation. Their occurrence is not associated solely with any particular type of vegetation (Clovis, 1979), but is associated with boulder fields, rock outcrops, or steep ravines lined with a dense growth of Rhododendron sp. (Pauley, 1998).
F. Home Range Size. Unknown. Movements probably are similar to eastern red-backed salamanders (P. cinereus; Kleeberger and Werner, 1982).
G. Territories. Thurow (1976) noted that in all laboratory trials but one, Cheat Mountain salamanders did not show aggressive behavior toward other small Plethodon when they were introduced into the species' territory. Conversely, Pauley and Pauley (1990) found in laboratory trials that Cheat Mountain salamanders did display an aggressive behavior towards eastern red-backed salamanders introduced into their territory.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. This species remains active on the surface from late March to mid October (Santiago, 1999). Aestivation only occurs during unusual drought conditions.
I. Seasonal Migrations. This species does not migrate.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Surface activity and abundance of Cheat Mountain salamanders is influenced by environmental conditions (Santiago, 1999). Depending on soil temperature, Cheat Mountain salamanders emerge from winter refugia at the end of March and retreat to underground refugia in mid October.
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. Pauley (1980a) and Pauley (1998) found that Cheat Mountain salamanders compete with eastern red-backed salamanders for nesting sites and primary and secondary food items. They also compete with Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus) for cool, moist sites. Cheat Mountain salamanders have a narrow elevational overlap with red-backed salamanders (12.2 m–61.0 m) and Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders (0–97.5 m; Pauley, 1980b). Elevational overlaps from 61 m–121.9 m result in keen competition (Hairston, 1951, 1980b). Pauley (1998) found that Cheat Mountain salamanders are more abundant adjacent to large emergent rocks where soil and litter are more moist and cooler than the surrounding hillsides. Pauley (2003b) has hypothesized that Cheat Mountain salamanders were protected in these refugia (emergent rocks) when the original forests were cut and in some areas burned. Because of competitive interactions with red-backed salamanders and Allegheny Mountain dusky salamanders, Cheat Mountain salamanders remain associated with these refugia.
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Mature females range from 38.2–53.4 mm SVL (average = 45.8 mm); males range from 35.5–49.4 mm (average = 42.5 mm; Pauley, unpublished data).
M. Longevity. Unknown. Probably similar to other small Plethodon (Snider and Bowler, 1992).
N. Feeding Behavior. Cheat Mountain salamanders are opportunistic feeders. Major prey items are mites, springtails, beetles, flies, and ants (Pauley, 1980a).
O. Predators. Unknown. Probably include shrews, common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), and ring-necked snakes (Diadophis punctatus).
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Unknown. As with other members of the genus Plethodon, mucus secretions in the tail may inhibit ingestion by small predators.
Q. Diseases. Diseases of this species have not been reported.
R. Parasites. Parasites have not been determined.
4. Conservation. Cheat Mountain salamanders were listed as a Threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1989b (Federal Register). The recovery plan for this species was developed by Pauley (1991b) for the Northeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Of the 60 known populations, all or portions of 46 are located within the boundaries of the Monongahela National Forest, which provides protection from habitat disturbances. Cheat Mountain salamanders may be sensitive to logging practices such as clearcutting and development of roads, trails, and ski slopes (Pauley, 1994, 2003b). Mitchell et al. (1999) listed existing and potential threats to Cheat Mountain salamanders. In 1981, Pauley (1997) attempted to relocate 47 salamanders from a population of Cheat Mountain salamanders that was going to be destroyed by a deep mine portal. All attempts to recover relocated specimens for the ensuing four years were unsuccessful.
1Thomas K. Pauley
2Beth Anne Pauley
3Mark B. Watson
Literature references for Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo, are here.
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