Jordan's Salamander, Red-Cheecked Salamander, Jordan's Redcheeck Salamander
© 2016 Dr. Joachim Nerz (1 of 38)
Plethodon jordani Blatchley, 1901
David A. Beamer1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Jordan's salamanders (Plethodon jordani) have a limited and disjunct distribution. The major cluster of populations occurs along the Tennessee–North Carolina border. A more southern set of populations occurs in Rabun County in extreme northeastern Georgia. They occur at elevations from 213–1,951 m (Grobman, 1944; see Petranka, 1998), but usually to elevations above 600 m (Hairston and Pope, 1948; Hairston, 1949; see Petranka, 1998; see also Highton and Peabody, 2000). There is no evidence to suggest that the current range of Jordan's salamanders differs from their historical range, although populations have undoubtedly been lost in association with habitat loss and alteration.
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Highton (2003) sampled one population of Jordan's salamanders from 1961–'75, then re-counted this population again in 1994 and found a precipitous decline in the number of animals found under similar sampling conditions using a similar level of effort. While this is suggestive of declines, this population should continue to be monitored to determine whether these data are the result of true declines or natural population fluctuations.
Petranka (1998) states that deforestation and the conversion of mixed hardwood forests to pine monocultures has eliminated or reduced a large number of eastern Plethodon populations. However, Ash (1988, 1997) and Ash and Bruce (1994) have strongly disagreed with Petranka's estimates and do not consider forestry practices to be having as strong an impact on native salamanders.
3. Life History Features.
A. Breeding. Reproduction is terrestrial.
i. Breeding migrations. Unlikely; breeding migrations are unknown in 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, but probably include underground cavities or chambers.
ii. Parental care. Unknown, but it is likely that females brood, as with other species of Plethodon.
D. Juvenile Habitat. Juveniles remain underground until the next summer, 10–12 mo following hatching. Once they surface, juveniles increase by an average of 12 mm SVL from May–October. They add about 9 mm SVL during the following summer.
Juveniles (18–34 mm SVL) were abundant in spruce-fir forest on 27 August at Indian Gap, Sevier County, Tennessee. They were found beneath rocks that were strewn about the forest floor in the midst of a thick carpet of fallen needles and occasionally beneath pieces of wood (Reynolds, 1959).
Juveniles (22.5–28.9 mm TL) were abundant in spruce-fir forest in May at Indian Gap, Sevier County, Tennessee. They were found beneath flat rocks protruding through a thick bed of fallen needles and beneath rotten logs and bark (Wood, 1947a).
E. Adult Habitat. Jordan's salamanders are most abundant in red spruce-Fraser’s fir forest but are also found on hardwood covered ridges. The forest floor where this species is most abundant is covered with a heavy layer of moss with only a little soil over a mass of large boulders (King, 1939). They occur from the highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains (Clingmans Dome, 2,024 m [6,643 ft]) down to an elevation of 853 m (2,800 ft; Huheey and Stupka, 1967).
Jordan's salamanders inhabit burrows or other subterranean passageways under rocks, logs, and other cover objects during warmer months. These burrow systems can be extensive (Chadwick, 1940). Animals are most active at night and during and following rains.
F. Home Range Size. Small; Madison (1969) found that the maximum distances moved by adults were ≤ 11 m for males and ≤ 4 m for juveniles. Individuals home after displacements of over 300 m (Madison, 1969, 1972).
Merchant (1972) estimates mean home ranges for males to be 11.4 m2, for females to be 2.8 m2, and for juveniles to be 1.7 m2. Nishikawa (1990) found that adults occupy fixed home ranges with little overlap between individuals of the same sex or age group (see also Petranka, 1998).
Density estimates range from 0.18–0.86 animals/m2 (Ash, 1988; Petranka, 1998).
G. Territories. At least some members of the Plethodon jordani complex aggressively defend territories (Thurow, 1976), but it is unknown whether Jordan's salamanders establish and defend territories.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Undocumented, but Plethodon species will move from forest-floor habitats to underground sites in response to desiccating surface conditions.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Subzero temperatures drive Jordan's salamanders deep into burrows, where they remain underground, even during thaws.
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. In the Great Smoky Mountains, the following species were encountered on experimental plots with Jordan's salamanders: black-bellied salamanders (Desmognathus quadramaculatus), seal salamanders (D. monticola), Ocoee salamanders (D. ocoee), imitator salamanders (D. imitator), pygmy salamanders (D. wrighti), southern red-backed salamanders (Plethodon serratus), southern Appalachian salamanders (P. teyahalee), spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus), red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber), and Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders (Eurycea wilderae; Hairston, 1980b, 1981).
Southern Appalachian salamanders are widely sympatric at intermediate elevations with the central and western portions of the Great Smoky isolate and Gregory Bald isolate of Jordan's salamanders. In these areas, they rarely hybridize. In the eastern portion of the Great Smoky isolate of Jordan's salamanders, they replace each other altitudinally and hybridize extensively in a narrow contact zone (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Jordan's salamanders occur within 0.4 km of northern slimy salamanders (P. glutinosus) on Parsons Bald, Swain County, North Carolina. There is no evidence of hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Jordan's salamanders contact southern gray-cheeked salamanders (P. metcalfi) on Balsam Mountain and on Hyatt Ridge. Narrow hybrid zones are present at both contact zones (Hairston, 1950; Highton, 1970; Hairston et al., 1992; Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Hairston (1980b, 1981) demonstrated competition between Jordan's salamanders and southern Appalachian salamanders in the Great Smoky Mountains. The number of southern Appalachian salamanders increased significantly at plots in the Great Smoky Mountains where Jordan's salamanders were removed. The removal of southern Appalachian salamanders from plots resulted in a significant increase in the proportion of young Jordan's salamanders. Hairston did not identify what resources are limiting, but hypothesizes that southern Appalachian salamanders may compete with members of the P. jordani complex for nesting sites.
Powders and Tietjen (1974) hypothesize that competition for food during the fall occurs between southern Appalachian salamanders and Jordan's salamanders. Because competition occurs during the fall, they reason that it would act earlier at higher elevations. This fall competition may exclude southern Appalachian salamanders from higher altitudes that are occupied exclusively by Jordan's salamanders.
In the Great Smoky Mountains, Jordan's salamanders and southern Appalachian salamanders replace one another altitudinally. At two of four transects, there is no elevational overlap in the occurrence of these two species, while at the other two there is elevational overlap of 3–8 m (Hairston, 1951).
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Unknown.
M. Longevity. Unknown.
N. Feeding Behavior. The following food items were reported for Jordan's salamanders from Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Annelida, Gastropoda, Diplopoda, Chilopoda, Isopoda, Phalangidea, Pseudoscorpionida, Aranae, Acarina, Collembola, Homoptera, Hemiptera, Coleoptera, Diptera, Formicidae, non-formicid-Hymenoptera, and insect larvae. Some seasonal variation was observed in the diet, which may indicate seasonal availability of food items. Millipedes appear to be more important in spring, and insect larvae increase during autumn; collembolans and annelids increase in importance with altitude (Powders and Tietjen, 1974).
Weller (1931) reported beetles, lepidopteran larvae, and mollusks from the stomachs of Jordan's salamanders.
Huheey (1959) described the feeding behavior of captive Jordan's salamanders on large earthworms (Lumbricus sp.). Salamanders would seize the worms firmly in the jaws and then rapidly rotate the body until the earthworm broke. It would then swallow the fragment and attack the remainder.
O. Predators. Jordan's salamanders are preyed upon by other salamanders, including black-bellied salamanders (Huheey and Brandon, 1962) and spring salamanders (Orr, 1962). Huheey (1960) reported predation by common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis). Weller (1931) reported a beetle (Cychrus sp.) feeding on a freshly killed Jordan's salamander. In captivity, short-tailed shrews (Blarina brevicauda) will feed on Jordan's salamanders (Orr, 1962).
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Jordan's salamanders have slimy tail secretions that are noxious to potential avian predators (Huheey, 1960; Brodie and Howard, 1973; Hensel and Brodie, 1976; see also Petranka, 1998). King (1939) reports that the mucous from Jordan's salamanders is extremely viscous and is removed from the human skin with difficulty. Feder and Arnold (1982) report that when attacked by garter snakes (Thamnophis sp.), Jordan's salamanders may wrap their tail around the snake's head while releasing tail secretions, thrash wildly, bite, or autotomize their tail (see also Petranka, 1998). When attacked by shrews (Blarina sp.), individuals will flip and position their tail towards the predator (Brodie et al., 1979). Wake and Dresner (1967) report 28% of animals had damaged tails (although the species referred to here is in question [R. Highton, personal communication]).
Members of the Plethodon jordani complex frequently become immobile when initially contacted. Jordan's 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. Jordan's salamanders are sometimes infected by the astomatous ciliate, Cepedietta michiganensis. Infection rates seem to decrease at higher altitudes and during the spring (Powders, 1967, 1970).
4. Conservation. Jordan's salamanders are not protected by any of the states within their range. Among members of the P. jordani complex, Jordan's salamanders have one of the wider distributions. The entire range of this species is contained within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Jordan's salamanders are relatively resilient to disturbances such as those associated with timbering operations and often are common in areas that were logged heavily prior to the establishment of the national park (D.A.B., personal observation).
As with all species of Plethodon, Jordan's 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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