This species is restricted to the Municipality of Purulhá, Guatemala, where it occurs in the Biotopo del Quetzal (García-París and Wake 2000; Vásquez Almazán et al. 2009). There is a single record from a site 4.5 km outside this protected area (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011). It is found above 1,200 m asl. (Frost 2010); a 2010 record of this species from 1,859 m asl. appears to represent its highest known elevation (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011). The species has an estimated extent of occurrence of 65 km²
Habitat and Ecology
This species lives in humid cloud forest and lower montane wet forest, and does not survive in degraded habitats. It is typically found in arboreal bromeliads. Breeding takes place by direct development and is not dependent upon water. Uncommonly for plethodontid salamanders, adults do not exhibit parental care (García-París and Wake 2000).
This once-common salamander was thought to have become rare (C. Vásquez and S.Rovito pers. comm. 2007), but since 2008 surveys within Biotopo del Quetzal have recorded many individuals, particularly in nights with rain (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011). Nevertheless, land conversion and forest degradation throughout its small range suggest that overall the population is likely to be declining. The effects of climate change are unclear, but large numbers of individuals are only found in years with unusually high rainfall, and the species cannot be found at all in the dry conditions which are increasingly frequent in this region (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011). This arboreal salamander occurs as a severely fragmented population, as suitable habitat exists only as islands of forest surrounded by cleared land (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011).
This species occurs in an area with a high human population density and main road access. It is threatened outside Biotopo del Quetzal by land clearance for subsistence farming and the commercial cultivation of ornamental ferns for export to Japan. A forest fragment outside the reserve where this species was recorded is entirely surrounded by cleared land (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011). The edges of the reserve itself are under increasing pressure from human encroachment from both the resident population and new communities migrating into the area. The extraction of timber from forest at the reserve edge is widespread, and in some areas so intensive that the forest is completely cleared and subsequently converted to agriculture (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011). Forests further into the reserve are exploited for ferns and other forest products (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011). The pathogenic amphibian chytrid fungus has been detected in this area (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011), but its effects on these direct-developing salamanders are unknown. It has been reported that weather patterns in the region are already changing, with a higher incidence of warm days, an absence of days with continuous light rain, and less morning and afternoon mist (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011). The effects of these changes in temperature and humidity on the Sierra de las Minas hidden salamander are unknown, and there is currently no evidence that climate change is affecting this species (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011). However, the difficulty in finding these animals in drier conditions suggests that this species is highly sensitive to humidity, and as it is wholly reliant on good-quality cloud forest it will be rapidly driven to extinction if climate change modifies this habitat beyond its ability to persist.
This salamander's cloud forest habitat within the Biotopo del Quetzal is well protected, but enforcement is needed to preserve forest close to the edge of the reserve and to limit collection of ferns within the protected area. More research is needed into this species' distribution and population status as well as into the impacts of climate change, and the identity of the Finca Vulcán taxon (which might not represent the same species and which is not considered in this assessment) needs to be clarified.
Red List Status
Critically Endangered (CR)
Populations from Sierra de las Minas formerly included in Cryptotriton veraepacis represent a separate species, C. sierraminensis (Vásquez Almazán et al. 2009). The status of a population from Finca Vulcán which may represent this species is currently under investigation (C. Vásquez Almazán pers. comm. March 2011).
IUCN SSC Amphibian Specialist Group, 2012. Cryptotriton veraepacis. In: IUCN 2014