AmphibiaWeb - Plethodon variolatus


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Plethodon variolatus (Gilliams, 1818)
South Carolina Slimy Salamander
Subgenus: Plethodon
family: Plethodontidae
subfamily: Plethodontinae
genus: Plethodon
Species Description: Gilliams, J. 1818. Description of two new species of Linnaean Lacerta. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 1: 460.
Plethodon variolatus
© 2009 Stephen Bennett (1 of 13)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN Red List Status Account
NatureServe Use NatureServe Explorer to see status.
National Status None
Regional Status SC


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bookcover The following account is modified from Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo (©2005 by the Regents of the University of California), used with permission of University of California Press. The book is available from UC Press.

Plethodon variolatus (Gilliams, 1818)
South Carolina Slimy Salamander

David A. Beamer1
Michael J. Lannoo2

1. Historical versus Current Distribution. South Carolina slimy salamanders (Plethodon variolatus) occur in the Southern Coastal Plain Physiographic Province of South Carolina and extreme southeastern Georgia. The neotype was collected at an elevation of 6 m in Berkeley County, South Carolina. There is little evidence to suggest that the current distribution differs from the historical distribution.

2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Generally unknown. Highton (2003) found that in all six populations he studied (located in Chatham County, Georgia, and in Allendale, Berkeley, Charleston-Dorchester, and Jasper counties, South Carolina) numbers of animals collected in the 1990s were reduced compared with collections he had made during and prior to 1980. Additional surveys are necessary to determine whether these results indicate true declines or natural population fluctuations.

3. Life History Features. South Carolina slimy salamanders were fairly recently described (Highton, 1989). Since this time, there has been no published work done on this species. As a portion of his larger research program, R. Highton has collected basic life history and natural history information on South Carolina slimy 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.

B. Eggs.

i. Egg deposition sites. Undocumented, but likely to be similar to other Coastal Plain members of the slimy salamander complex, such as southeastern slimy salamanders, which deposit their eggs in and under rotting logs (Highton, 1956).

ii. Clutch size. Unknown.

C. Direct Development.

i. Brood sites. Unknown, but are likely to be the same as egg deposition sites.

ii. Parental care. Unknown, but it is likely that females brood, as with other members of the slimy salamander complex.

D. Juvenile Habitat. Juveniles were commonly encountered in piles of pine bark surrounding naked pine boles during early spring in Berkeley County, South Carolina (D.A.B., personal observations).

E. Adult Habitat. Neill (1948c) reports South Carolina slimy salamanders from thick damp woods, where the ground was littered with bark scraps, fallen timber, and leafy debris. In Jasper County, Neill (1948c) stated that these salamanders were found only in the immediate vicinity of shrew burrows, which they used as retreats. South Carolina slimy salamanders appear to avoid low sandy areas with palmetto and pine flatwoods.

In the Francis Marion National Forest, Berkeley County, South Carolina slimy salamanders are found in mixed hardwood forests, bottomland forests, and longleaf pine savannas. They were frequently found in areas that were prescription burned as a land management practice. Unburned areas were always present nearby (usually across the road), so it is unknown if South Carolina slimy salamanders can persist in areas that burn regularly without refugia of nearby unburned areas (D.A.B., personal observations).

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 South Carolina slimy salamanders establish and defend territories.

H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Generally unknown, but South Carolina slimy salamanders likely avoid desiccating conditions by seeking shelter in underground sites.

I. Seasonal Migrations. Unknown, but vertical migrations from surface sites to underground sites and back again are likely to be important in surviving seasonally variable conditions.

J. Torpor (Hibernation). Generally unknown, but South Carolina slimy salamanders likely avoid cold conditions by seeking shelter in underground sites.

K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. In Berkeley County, South Carolina slimy salamanders have been found in association with marbled salamanders (Ambystoma opacum), mole salamanders (A. talpoideum), and dwarf salamanders (Eurycea quadridigitata; D.A.B., personal observations).

L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. The neotype is an adult male, 61 mm SVL. Highton (1989) views South Carolina slimy salamanders as a small species.

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.

O. Predators. Undocumented, but likely include forest snakes, birds, and small mammals.

P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. All Plethodon produce noxious skin secretions (Brodie, 1977).

Q. Diseases. Unknown.

R. Parasites. Unknown.

4. Conservation. South Carolina slimy salamanders are not protected by either of the two states within their range. Among members of the P. glutinosus complex, South Carolina slimy salamanders have one of the smaller distributions. Within their range there are several federal and state properties that contain suitable habitat for these salamanders.

As with all species of Plethodon, South Carolina 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.

South Carolina slimy salamanders are frequently found in woodlands with relatively sparse canopy due to frequent fire return intervals. Until data are accumulated about how South Carolina slimy salamander populations respond to fire frequencies, it is difficult to suggest land management plans that address burn regimes (see "Adult Habitat" above).

Acknowledgments. Thanks to Richard Highton, who reviewed this account and gave us the benefit of his insight and experience.

1David A. Beamer
Department of Biology
East Carolina University
Greenville, North Carolina 27858

2Michael J. Lannoo
Muncie Center for Medical Education
Indiana University School of Medicine
MT 201
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana 47306

Literature references for Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo, are here.

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