Ambystoma mabeei Bishop, 1928
Joseph C. Mitchell
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. The historical distribution of Mabee's salamanders (Ambystoma mabeei) is unknown. Mabee's salamanders occur entirely in the Atlantic Coastal Plain and extend from Gloucester County, Virginia, to the southern tip of South Carolina (Mosimann and Rabb, 1948; Mitchell and Hedges, 1980; Ensley and Cross, 1984; Petranka, 1998; Mitchell and Reay, 1999). There are no records west of the Fall Line.
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. There are no published estimates of population size for Mabee's salamanders. Maximum number of larval salamanders caught in 1963 with a minnow seine in four ponds in North Carolina was 51, 97, 115, and 212 (Hardy, 1969b). Roble (1998) reported that Mabee's salamanders were confirmed in 17 of 50 natural sinkhole ponds in the Grafton Plains area in the city of Newport News and York County, Virginia. Up to 100 larvae were caught on single visits to three of these ponds. A total of 183 individuals was caught in 1995–'97, compared to 821 marbled salamanders (Ambystoma opacum) encountered during that period, suggesting that the best known population of Mabee's salamanders in Virginia exists in low densities (Roble, 1998).
3. Life History Features. The life history and biology of Mabee's salamanders have been summarized by Pague and Mitchell (1991a) and Petranka (1998). Mabee's salamanders possess an aquatic larval stage and terrestrial juvenile and adult stages.
A. Breeding. Reproduction is aquatic.
i. Breeding migrations. During rains, adults migrate en masse from terrestrial retreats to breeding ponds during the winter (Hardy, 1969a). Movement distances are unknown. Hardy (1969b) found 91 recently transformed Mabee's salamanders under boards approximately 800 meters from the nearest water. Roble (1998), however, found no mass migrations in Virginia using drift fences and pitfall traps.
ii. Breeding habitat. Mabee's salamanders breed in small, shallow, typically ephemeral to semi-permanent wetlands that are usually free of fishes (Petranka, 1998). A wide variety of pools support breeding populations, including farm ponds, water-filled foxholes, vernal pools in pine and hardwoods, Carolina bays, sinkhole ponds, and cypress-tupelo ponds in pinewoods (Hardy, 1969a; Hardy and Anderson, 1970; Roble, 1998).
i. Egg deposition sites. Mating and egg laying occur in winter, extending from December–March depending on weather conditions. Courtship occurs during winter rains. Eggs vary from 5.1–5.9 mm in diameter and are deposited singly or in loosely connected clusters of 2–6 eggs (Hardy, 1969a). Eggs are attached to vegetation on the pond substrate.
ii. Clutch size. Undescribed. Hatching occurs in 9–14 d at about 9 mm TL. Metamorphosis occurs in April–May depending on when eggs were deposited.
C. Larvae/Metamorphosis. The larval stage lasts a few months (Petranka, 1998). Size at metamorphosis in North Carolina was estimated at 55–60 mm total length (Hardy, 1969b). Metamorphic animals with gill buds from Virginia were 60.1–78.6 mm total length (mean = 70.4; Mitchell and Hedges, 1980).
D. Juvenile Habitat. Juvenile habitat appears to be similar to adult habitat, but this aspect of the ecology of Mabee's salamanders has not been studied. Hardy (1969b) noted that a large number of recently transformed juveniles were found under coverboards in an overgrown tree-shaded lawn adjacent to an open field.
E. Adult Habitat. Adults use terrestrial habitats extensively outside of the breeding period. Terrestrial habitat includes open fields, pine forest, and hardwood forest (Hardy, 1969b).
F. Home Range Size. Unknown. Movements of adults have not been studied but observations by Hardy (1969b) suggest that some individuals remain close to breeding ponds during the remainder of the year.
G. Territories. Territoriality has not been described in Mabee's salamanders.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Adults and juveniles are fossorial during the non-breeding months. We do not know if individuals are active year-round underground or if they aestivate during dry periods. Adults have been found under logs in the bottom of breeding ponds during a late August to November drought (Hardy, 1969b).
I. Seasonal Migrations. Recently metamorphosed juveniles migrate from natal ponds and are known to disperse ≤ 0.8 kilometers (Hardy, 1969b).
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Because Mabee's salamanders breed in the winter, they are unlikely to exhibit winter torpor.
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. In aquatic habitats, Mabee's salamanders have been found in association with tiger salamanders (A. tigrinum), marbled salamanders, mole salamanders (A. talpoideum), lesser sirens (Siren intermedia), southern two-lined salamanders (Eurycea cirrigera), dwarf salamanders (Eurycea quadridigitata), and eastern newts (Notophthalmus viridescens; Hardy, 1969a; Roble, 1998). As many as ten species of frogs and one fish, eastern mudminnows (Umbra pygaea), have been found in ponds containing Mabee's salamanders (Roble, 1998).
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Age at maturity is unknown for either sex. The smallest male known from Virginia was 55 mm SVL, the smallest female was 53 mm SVL (unpublished data).
M. Longevity. Snider and Bowler (1992) reported a longevity record for a captive individual of unknown sex as 8 yr, 9 mo, 23 d. Longevity in nature is unknown.
N. Feeding Behavior. Larval Mabee's salamanders feed on zooplankton and other small invertebrates (Petranka, 1998). Hardy (1969b) noted that adults caught on land in March–April had eaten earthworms.
O. Predators. Known predators are tiger salamander larvae and lesser sirens (Hardy, 1969b). Petranka (1998) added odonate naiads and dytiscid beetle larvae.
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Mabee's salamanders possess passive antipredator displays that include lashing the tail weakly toward a touch, coiling the body with the head under the base of the tail, tail undulation, and, when touched, assuming an immobile position with the forelimbs clasped along the body (Brodie, 1977). Individual salamanders exhibited these display behaviors for 8.5–87 s (mean = 40.5 s) when approached by a small snake (Dodd, 1977b).
Q. Diseases. No diseases have been reported.
R. Parasites. Parasites have not been reported.
4. Conservation. Mabee's salamanders are listed as a Threatened species in Virginia (Mitchell and Reay, 1999). Threats include habitat fragmentation, aquatic and terrestrial habitat loss, road mortality, and alteration of hydrology mostly due to urbanization. One Mabee's salamander site, a 151 ha portion of the Grafton area sinkhole pond complex in the city of Newport News, was dedicated in 1995 as a Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Natural Area Preserve (Clark, 1998).
Literature references for Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo, are here.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2023. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 29 Sep 2023.
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