Southern Zigzag Salamander
© 2018 Jake Hutton (1 of 13)
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
Plethodon ventralis Highton, 1997
David A. Beamer1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Southern zigzag salamanders (Plethodon ventralis) occur in scattered sites from northern Mississippi east-northeast to southeastern Virginia, including sites in northern Alabama and Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and western North Carolina. With the exception of local extirpations due to habitat destruction and modification, their current distribution is likely similar to their historical distribution, but there has been no documentation of their historical distribution.
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Generally unknown. Highton (2003) sampled two sites (Lawrence County, Alabama, and Blount County, Tennessee) prior to 1987 and again in 1996 and found that numbers of animals in both populations were reduced. Additional data are necessary to determine whether these data reflect true declines or natural population fluctuations.
3. Life History Features. Southern zigzag salamanders were recently described (Highton, 1997). In 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 Southern zigzag 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 not known for any Plethodon species.
ii. Breeding habitat. Unknown.
i. Egg deposition sites. Unknown.
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 species of Plethodon.
D. Juvenile Habitat. Unknown, but likely to be similar to adult habitat.
E. Adult Habitat. In the Great Smoky Mountains, southern zigzag salamanders are found in flat, moist areas at elevations lower than 579 m (1,900 ft; King, 1939; Highton, 1972). Thurow (1963) reports southern zigzag salamanders from a talus slope on the lower mountain slopes near Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
F. Home Range Size. Unknown, but small home ranges are typical for Plethodon species.
G. Territories. At least some members of the Plethodon dorsalis complex aggressively defend territories (Thurow, 1976); it is unknown whether southern zigzag salamanders establish and defend territories.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Southern zigzag salamanders are rarely found on the surface during the summer (Highton, 1972).
I. Seasonal Migrations. Southern zigzag salamanders likely avoid desiccating conditions by seeking shelter in underground sites.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). At low elevations in the Great Smoky Mountains, it is not unusual to find lethargic individuals under rocks and logs on mild days in the winter (Huheey and Stupka, 1967).
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. Dodd (1989) reports southern ravine salamanders (P. richmondi) occurring with salamanders that are likely southern zigzag salamanders in Madison County, Kentucky.
Southern zigzag salamanders occur together with southern red-backed salamanders (P. serratus) at Whiteoak Sink and the Sinks on Little River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (King, 1939; Huheey and Stupka, 1967). However, in both areas the two seem to replace each other altitudinally between 518–610 m (1,700–2,000 ft). Southern zigzag salamanders are largely restricted to the lower elevations, and southern red-backed salamanders occur at higher elevations. There is evidence of character displacement in this area, as southern zigzag salamanders are all of the unstriped phase, and southern red-backed salamanders are all striped (Highton, 1972).
Southern zigzag salamanders are found with Pigeon Mountain salamanders (P. petraeus), northern slimy salamanders (P. glutinosus), green salamanders (Aneides aeneus), long-tailed salamanders (Eurycea longicauda), cave salamanders (E. lucifuga), and spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus) on Pigeon Mountain, Walker County, Georgia (Wynn et al., 1988).
Southern zigzag salamanders were occasionally found with northern slimy salamanders, eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens) efts, and northern dusky salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus) in Knox County, Tennessee (Powders, 1973).
The following salamanders, along with southern zigzag salamanders, are all reported from Tishmingo County, Mississippi: hellbenders (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), marbled salamanders (Ambystoma opacum), spotted dusky salamanders (Desmognathus conanti), Mississippi slimy salamanders (Plethodon mississippi), spring salamanders, red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber), green salamanders (Aneides aeneus), southern two-lined salamanders (Eurycea cirrigera), long-tailed salamanders, and cave salamanders (Ferguson, 1961b; Wake and Woods, 1968).
Southern zigzag salamanders contact northern zigzag salamanders (P. dorsalis) in the vicinity of Muldraugh’s Ridge, Lincoln County, Kentucky. A transect in this area indicates that there is a narrow hybrid zone (Highton, 1997).
Southern zigzag salamanders contact Webster’s salamanders (P. websteri) in Jefferson County, Alabama. The contact zone may be little more than 1 km in width in this area. There is no evidence of hybridization between these two species. There is evidence of character displacement, as both species generally exhibit polymorphism for striped and unstriped morphs, but in this area southern zigzag salamanders are all of the unstriped morph and Webster’s salamanders are all of the striped morph (Highton, 1976, 1985).
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Unknown.
M. Longevity. Unknown.
N. Feeding Behavior. Unreported, but as with other species of Plethodon, animals likely feed at night, with activity proportional to moisture levels. Prey items include small invertebrates, especially insects, that inhabit or are associated with the forest floor.
O. Predators. Two southern zigzag salamanders were found in the stomach of a screech owl in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Stupka, 1953). Other predators are likely to include forest-dwelling snakes, birds, and small mammals.
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. All Plethodon produce noxious skin secretions (Brodie, 1977). Members of the P. dorsalis complex frequently become immobile when initially contacted. Southern zigzag 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. Unknown.
4. Conservation. Southern zigzag salamanders are listed as a Species of Special Concern in North Carolina. Within their range there are many federal and state properties that contain suitable habitat for these salamanders.
As with all species of Plethodon, southern zigzag 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. <http://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 18 Jan 2021.
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