Northern Slimy Salamander
© 2011 Todd Pierson (1 of 59)
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
Plethodon glutinosus (Green, 1818)
David A. Beamer1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Northern slimy salamanders (Plethodon glutinosus) are present throughout Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, extending northwest into southern Illinois, southern and western Indiana, and eastern Ohio, south through Tennessee into northeastern Alabama, northern Georgia, and extreme southwestern North Carolina, east into western Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey, and northeast into southwestern Connecticut and southern New York, with a disjunct population in southern New Hampshire. Populations range in elevation from sea level to about 1,500 m (Petranka, 1998).
Highton and his colleagues (Highton, 1989; Highton and Peabody, 2000) recognize 16 species in the P. glutinosus complex as follows: western slimy salamanders (P. albagula), Tellico salamanders (P. aureolus), Chattahoochee slimy salamanders (P. chattahoochee), Atlantic Coast slimy salamanders (P. chlorobryonis), white-spotted slimy salamanders (P. cylindraceus), northern slimy salamanders (P. glutinosus), southeastern slimy salamanders (P. grobmani), Cumberland Plateau salamanders (P. kentucki), Kiamichi slimy salamanders (P. kiamichi), Louisiana slimy salamanders (P. kisatchie), Mississippi slimy salamanders (P. mississippi), Ocmulgee slimy salamanders (P. ocmulgee), Savannah slimy salamanders (P. savannah), Sequoyah slimy salamanders (P. sequoyah), southern Appalachian salamanders (P. teyahalee), and South Carolina slimy salamanders (P. variolatus). Information gathered on these species has been published under the name "P. glutinosus" (indeed, Petranka  recognizes only Tellico salamanders, northern slimy salamanders, Cumberland Plateau salamanders, and southern Appalachian salamanders). Because of this, the literature on "P. glutinosus" must be interpreted carefully and with a consideration of locality data.
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Density estimates in optimal habitats range from 0.52–0.81 individuals/m2 (Semlitsch, 1980b). Densities can vary among nearby populations. Highton (2003) found that of 30 populations sampled prior to 1990 and re-sampled in the 1990s, 26 (87%) had fewer animals. Several of these differences were alarming. These populations should continue to be monitored to determine whether these counts reflect true population declines or natural fluctuations.
3. Life History Features.
A. Breeding. Reproduction is terrestrial. Females from populations in Alabama had sperm present within the spermatheca in the spring (Trauth, 1984; note the species identities of the specimens in this study cannot be precisely determined, as exact locality data is unknown, although it is likely that at least some were northern slimy salamanders).
Males collected in October from Rochester and Ithaca, New York, had vas deferens packed with sperm (Bishop, 1941b). The vasa deferentia from northern slimy salamanders collected in Bedford County, Pennsylvania, and Frederick County, Maryland, were enlarged during September–October. One male collected in October and all those collected in March in southern Illinois had large vasa deferentia. (Highton, 1962b).
Northern slimy salamanders from Somerset County, New Jersey, courted in September and October. The early stages of courtship were not observed, but the tail-straddling stage was similar to that described for white-spotted slimy salamanders from Whitetop Mountain, Virginia (Organ, 1960a, 1968). A female collected in southern Illinois on 27 April had a spermatophore in her cloaca when she was preserved on 9 May (Highton, 1962b).
i. Breeding migrations. Undocumented, but breeding migrations are not known for any Plethodon species.
ii. Breeding habitat. The courtship of a pair of northern slimy salamanders in Giles County, Virginia, was observed on the bank of a road within a bare area of about 0.3 m2 (Pope, 1950).
B. Eggs. Females collected from September–December in New York had large ovarian eggs, while large eggs were absent from specimens collected in May and through the summer (Bishop, 1941b). Females from Frederick County, Maryland, and Bedford County, Pennsylvania, were induced to oviposit in the laboratory during May and June (Highton, 1962b). One female collected on 23 August from DeKalb County, Georgia, was recently spent while another contained large ovarian eggs (5 mm) ready to be deposited (Highton, 1956). Females in southern Illinois apparently oviposit in late spring to early summer (Highton, 1962b). Females from Virginia and West Virginia oviposit in late July to early August (Pope and Pope, 1949).
i. Egg deposition sites. A nest was discovered within a rotting stump in West Virginia (Fowler, 1940). A nest in Vigo County, Indiana, was found in a rotting log, while two recently hatched clutches in Parke County, Indiana, were beneath rocks (Rubin, 1965).
ii. Clutch size. A nest in Hampshire County, West Virginia, contained 15 eggs (Fowler, 1940). A female from Vigo County, Indiana, was found brooding 34 eggs (Rubin, 1965). Twenty-three gravid females from Bedford County, Pennsylvania, contained from 13–25 eggs while ten females from Frederick County, Maryland, contained from 16–34 eggs (Highton, 1962b). Females from New York contained from 17–38 eggs (Bishop, 1941b). Females from Virginia and West Virginia contained from 17–33 eggs (Pope and Pope, 1949). Clutch sizes in Frederick County, Maryland, and Bedford County, Pennsylvania, are correlated with SVL (Semlitsch, 1980b).
C. Direct Development. A hatchling from Fulton County, Georgia, collected on 26 December was 18 mm SVL (Highton, 1956). Thirty-two hatchlings from Parke County, Indiana, ranged in size from 18.5–26 mm (Rubin, 1966).
i. Brood sites. A West Virginia female was found brooding a clutch inside a rotting stump (Fowler, 1940). A female from Vigo County, Indiana, was found brooding a clutch inside a rotting log, while two females with recently hatched young were found beneath rocks in Parke County, Indiana (Rubin, 1965).
ii. Parental care. Clutches in West Virginia and Indiana each were accompanied by a female (Fowler, 1940; Rubin, 1965).
D. Juvenile Habitat. Unknown, but likely to be similar to adults.
E. Adult Habitat. Northern slimy salamanders are 8–12 times denser in mature hardwood forests than in young pine monocultures (Bennett et al., 1980), and denser in old pine stands than younger pine stands (Grant et al., 1994).
In New York, Bishop (1941b) reports northern slimy salamanders as commonly being found beneath logs and stones in woods, in the crevices of shale banks, and along the sides of gullies and ravines. He also reports them from under moist humus and leaf mold or in manure piles.
Northern slimy salamanders in Cleburne County, Alabama, are found beneath logs, rocks and occasionally beneath leaf litter (Rubenstein, 1969).
Northern slimy salamanders are reported from caves in DeKalb, Jackson, and Marshall counties, Alabama, and Monroe County, Illinois (Peck, 1974).
F. Home Range Size. Unknown.
G. Territories. Northern slimy salamanders and members of their complex aggressively defend territories (Thurow, 1976).
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. In New York, northern slimy salamanders disappear from their usual haunts and may be found only by digging deeply into the soil or following the crevices that extend far into banks (Bishop, 1941b).
I. Seasonal Migrations. Undocumented, but animals likely move from forest floor sites to underground sites in response to seasonally related dry and cold conditions.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Bishop (1941b) reports finding northern slimy salamanders far below the surface during the winter.
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. In a series of laboratory experiments with northern slimy salamanders and Cumberland Plateau salamanders, there was not a significant difference in frequency of occurrences for initiator, aggressor, escaper, and biter behaviors, but northern slimy salamanders were defenders significantly more often than were Cumberland Plateau salamanders. Cumberland Plateau salamanders were appeasers and intruders significantly more often than northern slimy salamanders (Bailey, 1992). Cumberland Plateau salamanders show an increase in territorial behavior relative to shelter availability and population density when involved in interactions with northern slimy salamanders (Marvin, 1998).
Male green salamanders (Aneides aeneus) exhibit aggressive behavior towards northern slimy salamanders (Canterbury and Pauley, 1991). Other interactions between these two salamanders likely include competition for space, nesting sites, and food (Bailey, 1992; Marvin, 1998). Green salamanders are found frequently to occupy higher crevices in rock faces than are northern slimy salamanders (Baltar, 1983; Cliburn and Porter, 1987; Waldron, 2000). This stratification may be due to superior climbing abilities of green salamanders (Cliburn and Porter, 1986) or to competition (Canterbury and Pauley, 1991).
Juvenile northern slimy salamanders and juvenile eastern red-backed salamanders (Plethodon cinereus) compete reciprocally when resources are limiting. Interactions between adults are more obscure, but northern slimy salamanders may have reduced growth when eastern red-backed salamanders are present. In competition between these two species for territories, it appears that body size is the primary factor dictating territory ownership (Price and Shield, 2002).
The following salamanders were collected along with northern slimy salamanders on Mount Cheaha, Cleburne County, Alabama: spotted dusky salamanders (Desmognathus conanti), seepage salamanders (D. aeneus), seal salamanders (D. monticola), southern two-lined salamanders (Eurycea cirrigera), three-lined salamanders (E. guttolineata), spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus), red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber), and Webster’s salamanders (P. websteri; Rubenstein, 1969).
In Ohio, the following species are associated with northern slimy salamanders: eastern newts (Notophthalmus viridescens), Jefferson’s salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), spotted salamanders (A. maculatum), small-mouthed salamanders (A. texanum), marbled salamanders (A. opacum), mountain dusky salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus), northern dusky salamanders (D. fuscus), northern two-lined salamanders (Eurycea bislineata), southern two-lined salamanders, long-tailed salamanders (E. longicauda), northern ravine salamanders (P. electromorphus), and red-backed salamanders (Pfingsten, 1989d).
At a site in Randolph County, West Virginia, the following salamanders have been found in close association with northern slimy salamanders: Wehrle’s salamanders (P. wehrlei), red-backed salamanders, northern dusky salamanders, mountain dusky salamanders, spring salamanders, four-toed salamanders (Hemidactylium scutatum), and spotted salamanders (D.A.B., personal observations).
Northern slimy salamanders are found occasionally with northern zigzag salamanders (P. dorsalis), cave salamanders (Eurycea lucifuga), and long-tailed salamanders on rock faces in the unglaciated sections of Indiana (D.A.B., personal observations).
Northern slimy salamanders were found with southern zigzag salamanders (P. ventralis), eastern newt efts, and northern dusky salamanders in Knox County, Tennessee (Powders, 1973).
Northern slimy salamanders are found with Pigeon Mountain salamanders (P. petraeus), southern zigzag salamanders, green salamanders, long-tailed salamanders, cave salamanders, and spring salamanders on Pigeon Mountain, Walker County, Georgia (Wynn et al., 1988).
Northern slimy salamanders are sympatric with Yonahlossee salamanders (P. yonahlossee) only in the vicinity of Skulls Gap, Smyth County, Virginia. A probable F1 hybrid was found at this location (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Northern slimy salamanders contact Southern Appalachian salamanders on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Tennessee, southwest of the French Broad River. At one site in Polk County, Tennessee, they occur sympatrically and probably do not hybridize. However, at two other transects in Monroe and Sevier counties, Tennessee, there are narrow hybrid zones (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Northern slimy salamanders have a largely parapatric range with Tellico salamanders. 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).
Northern slimy salamanders and Chattahoochee slimy salamanders contact at the western edge of the Blue Ridge Province in Georgia; there is no published information on their interactions (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Northern slimy salamanders have a long contact with white-spotted slimy salamanders from Maryland south through West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee, from the Potomac River to the French Broad River. Hybrid populations are known from Washington County, Maryland, and Highland, Washington, and Smyth counties, Virginia (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
The six isolates of northern gray-cheeked salamanders (P. montanus) in the Valley and Ridge Province are widely sympatric with northern slimy salamanders. The two species also are sympatric in a small section of the Roan isolate of northern gray-cheeked salamanders. There is evidence of occasional hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Northern slimy salamanders occur within 0.4 km of Jordan's salamanders (P. jordani) on Parsons Bald, Swain County, North Carolina. There is no evidence of hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Northern slimy salamanders are sympatric throughout most of the range of Cumberland Plateau salamanders in the Cumberland Plateau of eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia and in areas in adjacent Tennessee and Virginia. There is evidence that the two species occasionally hybridize (Highton and MacGregor, 1983; Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Northern slimy salamanders are found in association with Wehrle’s salamanders throughout the entire range of Wehrle’s salamanders (Highton, 1972).
Northern slimy salamanders are sympatric throughout the known range of Pigeon Mountain salamanders. There is some evidence that indicates hybridization may rarely take place (Wynn et al., 1988; Highton and Peabody, 2000).
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. The smallest mature female from Frederick County, Maryland, was 62 mm SVL; the smallest mature male was 60 mm. The smallest mature female from Bedford County, Pennsylvania, was 61 mm SVL and the smallest mature male was 54 mm SVL. Maturity in these populations is probably not reached until 4 yr old (but see also Semlitsch, 1980b). Females from these locations have a biennial breeding cycle (Highton, 1962b).
The smallest mature female from southern Illinois was 50 mm SVL and the smallest mature male was 47 mm SVL. Maturity in these populations may be reached at 3 yr old (Highton, 1962b). The smallest mature female from Giles County, Virginia, was 57 mm SVL and the smallest mature male was 45 mm SVL. Maturity in these populations is probably reached at the age of 3 or 4 (Pope and Pope, 1949; Highton, 1962b).
The smallest male with a well-developed mental gland in Ohio was 48 mm SVL (Pfingsten, 1989d).
M. Longevity. Northern slimy salamanders in Frederick County, Maryland, and Bedford County, Pennsylvania, live in excess of 5 yr (Semlitsch, 1980b).
N. Feeding Behavior. Adults are dietary generalists, preying on forest floor invertebrates including insects such as coleopterans, collembolans, dipterans, hemipterans, homopterans, hymenopterans, and lepidopterans. They also feed on arachnids, centipedes, isopods, millipedes, phalangids, pseudoscorpions, and snails (Surface, 1913; Hamilton, 1932; Pope, 1950; Davidson, 1956; Oliver, 1967).
The following food items were reported for northern slimy salamanders from Knox County, Tennessee: Annelida, Gastropoda, Diplopoda, Chilopoda, Isopoda, Phalangidea, Pseudoscorpionida, Aranae, Acarina, Collembola, Homoptera, Hemiptera, Coleoptera, Diptera, Formicidae, and non-formicid hymenopteran and other insect larvae (Powders and Tietjen, 1974).
Surface (1913) reports the following food items from 170 specimens from various locations in Pennsylvania: earthworms, snails, spiders, other invertebrates, and insect adults and larvae.
A large female
northern slimy salamander (65 mm SVL) was captured with the tail of a juvenile northern
slimy salamander (27.5 mm SVL) protruding from its mouth (Powders, 1973).
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Nocturnal. Secretive. Northern slimy salamanders and members of their complex produce large amounts of skin secretions that have an adhesive component (Brodie et al., 1979). These adhesives bind to potential predators and can compromise both mastication and locomotion. Individuals will body flip and lash their tails when attacked by shrews (Brodie et al., 1979). They will vocalize when physically disturbed (Mansueti, 1941).
Members of the Plethodon glutinosus complex frequently become immobile when initially contacted. Northern slimy salamanders were included in a field study on immobility; however, it is not possible to separate their behavior from the other members of this complex in this published data set. Immobility may increase survival by making the salamander less likely to be detected, especially by visually oriented predators (Dodd, 1989).
Q. Diseases. Unknown.
R. Parasites. Northern slimy salamanders are sometimes infected by the astomatous ciliate, Cepedietta michiganensis (Powders, 1970). For a considered list of the parasites of North Carolina animals now considered to be in the glutinosus complex, see Rankin (1937).
4. Conservation. Northern slimy salamanders are listed as Threatened in Connecticut (http://dep.state.ct.us) and Protected in New Jersey, but are not listed in any of the other states within their range. Among members of the P. glutinosus complex, northern slimy salamanders have the widest distribution. Within this range, there are many federal and state properties that contain suitable habitat for these salamanders.
Northern slimy salamanders are relatively resilient to disturbances, such as those associated with timbering operations, and are found frequently in second-growth forests and relatively small, fragmented woodlots. In Indiana, northern slimy salamanders are widespread and abundant in areas that had up to 99% surface erosion 100 yr ago (D.A.B., personal observations).
As with all species of Plethodon, northern slimy 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 14 May 2021.
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