© 2010 Matthew Niemiller (1 of 10)
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
Plethodon aureolus Highton, 1984
David A. Beamer1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Tellico salamanders (Plethodon aureolus) occur on the western slopes of the Unicoi Mountains and nearby lowlands, between the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers, in northeastern Polk and eastern Monroe counties in Tennessee, and in northwestern Graham and northwestern Cherokee counties in North Carolina. They were first described by Highton (1984; see also Highton, 1986a). There is no evidence that the current distribution differs from the historical distribution.
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. A resurvey of a Tellico salamander population in Monroe County, Tennessee, by Highton (2003) revealed a decrease from an observed mean of 7.3 salamanders from 1978–'84 to a mean of 5.5 salamanders in 1997. Additional studies are necessary to determine whether this result reflects a real decline or simply natural variation.
3. Life History Features. There are almost no published data on life history and natural history features of Tellico salamanders (Petranka, 1998). As a portion of his larger research program, R. Highton has collected basic life history and natural history information on Tellico salamanders and has plans to publish these data in a monographic treatment.
A. Breeding. Reproduction is terrestrial.
i. Breeding migrations. Undocumented, but breeding migrations are unknown for any Plethodon species.
ii. Breeding habitat. Unknown.
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. Juveniles have been found in abundance at the type locality in August under superficial cover such as twigs (D.A.B., personal observations).
E. Adult Habitat. Tellico salamanders occur mostly at lower altitudes. However, they have been found at elevations as high as 1,622 m in Graham County, North Carolina (Highton, 1984).
F. Home Range Size. Unknown, but small home ranges are typical for Plethodon species.
G. Territories. At least some members of the Plethodon glutinosus complex aggressively defend territories (Thurow, 1976), but it is unknown whether Tellico salamanders establish and defend territories.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Unknown, but it is likely that animals move to moist underground sites in response to dry conditions, similar to other members of the P. glutinosus complex (see above).
I. Seasonal Migrations. Unknown and unlikely, with the exception of vertical movements from underground sites to the forest floor and back again, in response to seasonal dry and cold conditions.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Unknown, but in response to cold conditions, animals probably move to warmer underground sites, similar to other members of the P. glutinosus complex (see above).
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. Tellico salamanders are sympatric with Southern Appalachian salamanders (P. teyahalee) throughout the range of Tellico salamanders. There is no morphological or genetic evidence of hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Tellico salamanders have a largely parapatric range with northern slimy salamanders (P. glutinosus). They have been taken together at one site in Polk County, Tennessee, without any evidence of hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
An unusual association consisting of three members of the Plethodon glutinosus complex occurs at a site in Polk County, Tennessee. Here southern Appalachian salamanders, Tellico salamanders, and northern slimy salamanders occur sympatrically. There is no evidence of hybridization at this location (Highton, 1984).
Tellico salamanders contact red-legged salamanders (P. shermani) on the west slope of the Unicoi Mountains, in Monroe County, Tennessee. A transect done at this site indicates a wide hybrid zone on Sassafras Ridge (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Other salamander species associated with Tellico salamanders include southern red-backed salamanders (P. serratus), Ocoee salamanders (Desmognathus ocoee), black-bellied salamanders (D. quadramaculatus), Santeetlah dusky salamanders (D. santeetlah), northern dusky salamanders (D. fuscus), seal salamanders (D. monticola), seepage salamanders (D. aeneus), and Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders (Eurycea wilderae; D.A.B., personal observations).
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. According to Highton (1986), adults range in size from 50–72 mm SVL.
M. Longevity. Unknown.
N. Feeding Behavior. Unknown, but as with other Plethodon species, feeding likely takes place at night under moist conditions. Prey items likely include a range of invertebrates, especially insects. Captives feed readily on earthworms and wax "worms" (i.e., lepidopteran larvae; D.A.B., personal observations).
O. Predators. Unknown, but likely to include small mammals, birds, snakes, and perhaps large predaceous invertebrates.
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Members of the Plethodon glutinosus complex produce large amounts of skin secretions that have an adhesive component (Brodie et al., 1979).
Q. Diseases. Unknown.
R. Parasites. Unknown.
4. Conservation. Tellico salamanders are not protected in any of the states within their range. Among members of the P. glutinosus complex, Tellico salamanders have one of the smaller distributions. Within this range there are many federal and state properties that contain suitable habitat for these salamanders.
Tellico salamanders are relatively resilient to disturbances, such as those associated with timbering operations, and are frequently found in second-growth forests (D.A.B., personal observation).
As with all species of Plethodon, Tellico 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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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2021. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 13 Apr 2021.
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