Completely aquatic and gilled throughout life. Among mudpuppies and waterdogs (genus Necturus), this species is medium-sized. All mudpuppies and waterdogs have bushy external gills, two gill slits, a laterally compressed tail, and four toes on front and hind feet. Adult Alabama waterdogs measure 10-13 cm snout to vent length (15-22 cm total length). The dorusm is reddish brown to nearly black. Some populations have spots on the dorsum. The venter lacks spots in all age classes. Tips of the toes are light colored. The body and head are flattened. Sexually mature males can be distinguished by the swollen cloaca and pair of enlarged cloacal papillae that project posteriorly. Hatchlings are mottled dorsally with a few light spots. In some populations, juveniles have light stripes on the head and back, similar to juveniles of N. maculosus. Juveniles have a dark eye stripe running from the nostril, through the eye to the gills. The stripe is retained in adults. (Neill 1963; Bart et al. 1997; Petranka 1998; Bailey and Moler 2003).
Sympatric with N. beyeri in some localities, but these species differ in body shape (flattened in N. alabamensis vs. near cylindrical in N. beyeri), ventral coloration (absence vs. presence of spots), and microhabitat use (shelter under rocks or debris, active on the bottom vs. living in burrows, and frequently active in the water column) (Neill. 1963; Bart et al. 1997).
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
U.S. state distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Alabama
Restricted to the Black Warrior River Basin of Alabama (Bailey and Moler 2003).Apparently prefers streams with logjams, woody or leafy debris, or rocks that provide cover and are likely oviposition sites. The flattened body of this species may be correlated with its habit of hiding under rocks and other cover (Neill 1963; Petranka 1998).
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Relatively little is known about the natural history of this species. Individuals are rarely found during summer months. Breeding season is December through February and animals are abundant at this time. Animals are active on the bottom at night, frequently on cold stormy nights when it rains. Diet includes earthworms (Neill 1963). Mudpuppies and waterdogs are nearly inactive in the summer. Animals caught in the autumn may be quite lean compared with their condition in the winter and spring when they are in reproductive readiness (Bart et al. 1997).
Relation to Humans
Mudpuppies and waterdogs are sometimes found in the pet trade.
The systematics of Necturus in general, and N. alabamensis in particular, have been quite problematic. Some authors have doubted that the Alabama waterdog is a separate species from the Gulf Coast waterdog (N. beyeri). Although they co-occur in some areas, these forms are apparently distinct in microhabitat preference, morphology, and with respect to genes (Neill 1963; Guttman et al. 1990; Bart et al. 1997). Populations of Necturus from the Coastal Plain have sometimes been assigned to this species, but they are now tentatively assigned to N. beyeri. (Bailey and Moler 2003).See Petranka (1998) and Bailey and Moler (2003)for further discussion.
Necturus alabamensis, N. beyeri, and N. maculosus are relatively closely related (Guttman et al. 1990).
Bailey, M. A., and Moler, P. E. (2003). ''Necturus alabamensis Viosca. Black Warrior Waterdog.'' Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, 761.1-761.2.
Bart, H. L., Jr., Bailey, M. A., Ashton, R. E., Jr., and Moler, P. E. (1997). ''Taxonomic and nomenclatural status of the Upper Black Warrior River Waterdog.'' Journal of Herpetology, 31, 192-201.
Guttman, S. I., Weigt, L. A., Moler, P. E., Ashton, R. E., Jr., Mansell, B. W. and Peavy, J. (1990). ''An electrophoretic analysis of Necturus form the southeastern United States.'' Journal of Herpetology, 24(2), 163-175.
Neill, W. T. (1963). "Notes on the Alabama waterdog, Necturus alabamensis Viosca." Herpetologica, 19, 166-174.
Petranka, J. W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. and London.
Originally submitted by: Meredith J. Mahoney (first posted 2000-07-26)
Edited by: M. J. Mahoney (2003-11-12)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2003 Necturus alabamensis: Alabama Waterdog <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/4223> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed May 21, 2022.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2022. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 21 May 2022.
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