Shenandoah Mountain Salamander
© 2016 Will Lattea (1 of 5)
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
Plethodon virginia Highton, 1999
David A. Beamer1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Shenandoah Mountain salamanders (Plethodon virginia) were recognized by Highton (1999a) on the basis of molecular and distributional data from animals previously recognized as Valley and Ridge salamanders (P. hoffmani). The type specimen is an adult male collected within 1 km SE–SSE from the top of Cow Knob Mountain, at an elevation of 1,100–1,200 m, along the Pendleton County, West Virginia–Rockingham County, Virginia, state line. The known distribution of Shenandoah Mountain salamanders and its relation to the distribution of Valley and Ridge salamanders is presented in Highton (1999a, fig. 4). This distribution includes Shenandoah Mountain, plus South Branch and Nathaniel mountains, from central Rockingham County, Virginia, and Pendleton County, West Virginia, north to Hardy and Hampshire counties, West Virginia, and west to the South Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River in western Hardy and southern Hampshire counties in West Virginia (Highton, 1999a).
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. When compared with data collected prior to 1987, data collected since 1992 show that population declines of Shenandoah Mountain salamanders may have occurred at sites in Rockingham County, Virginia, and Pendleton County, West Virginia, while a population in Hampshire, West Virginia, contains a low but stable number of animals (Highton, 2003). Additional monitoring will be necessary to determine whether these data reflect true population trends or natural fluctuations.
3. Life History Features.
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, but as with other members of the P. cinereus group, likely to include underground sites and perhaps sites under surface cover objects.
ii. Clutch size. The average number of eggs was 4.6, deposited by five female Shenandoah Mountain salamanders in Rockingham County, Virginia (Fraser, 1974).
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. Unknown.
E. Adult Habitat. The habitat of Shenandoah Mountain salamanders at a site in Rockingham County, Virginia, includes ridges and slopes. The ridges are characterized by deep soil with a predominant vegetation of white oak (Quercus alba), pink honeysuckle (Rhododendren nudifolium), and late low blueberry (Vaccinium vacillans). The slopes are characterized by shallow, rocky soil with a predominant vegetation of chestnut oak (Quercus montanta), red maple (Acer rubrum), late low blueberry, witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), and mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). Farther down the slopes, the soil is rocky with exposed bedrock and a predominate vegetation of chestnut oak, red oak (Quercus rubra), bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), black gum (Nyssa sylvatica), and witch hazel (Fraser, 1976a).
F. Home Range Size. Unknown, but small home ranges are typical for Plethodon species.
G. Territories. Unknown.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Shenandoah Mountain salamanders were not found between August and September in Rockingham County, Virginia (Fraser, 1976a).
I. Seasonal Migrations. Animals make vertical migrations, moving from the forest floor to underground sites. Only a small proportion of the population is at the surface at any given time (Fraser, 1976a).
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Shenandoah Mountain salamanders in Rockingham County, Virginia, were not found at the surface during periods of below-freezing weather from December–February (Fraser, 1976a).
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. The type locality of Shenandoah Mountain salamanders is only 1.5 km from the type locality of Cow Knob salamanders (P. punctatus). Fraser (1976a) studied the coexistence of Shenandoah Mountain salamanders and Cow Knob salamanders at a site in Rockingham County, Virginia. There is high overlap of food resources and surface habitat utilization between adult Shenandoah Mountain salamanders and juvenile Cow Knob salamanders. Staggered feeding schedules and partitioning of structural habitat by adults appears to be important in reducing interspecific competition between these two species at this site.
Fraser (1976a) performed a study of behavioral interactions between captive Shenandoah Mountain salamanders and Cow Knob salamanders (P. punctatus). Salamanders were introduced into large containers with surface cover objects. There was no tendency for either a positive or negative association when adult Ridge and Valley salamanders were added to an enclosure containing juvenile Cow Knob salamanders and vice versa. However, there was a significant negative association between Valley and Ridge salamanders when they were added to an enclosure containing adult Cow Knob salamanders. There was not a significant association when adult Cow Knob salamanders were added to an enclosure containing adult Valley and Ridge salamanders.
Shenandoah Mountain salamanders are sympatric with red-backed salamanders (P. cinereus) at only two sites. Highton (1999a) suggests that there might be strong competitive exclusion between these two species.
White-spotted slimy salamanders (P. cylindraceus) are known from Shenandoah Mountain (Highton, 1972, 1989), although there is not any published information on its association with Shenandoah Mountain salamanders there.
Shenandoah Mountain salamanders contact Valley and Ridge salamanders (P. hoffmani) at the northern and southern extremities of Shenandoah Mountain salamanders' range. In these areas there are some hybrid populations (Highton, 1999a).
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. The male holotype and the female allotype were the same size, with a 57 mm SVL.
M. Longevity. Unknown.
N. Feeding Behavior. The main food items in the stomachs of 94 Shenandoah Mountain salamanders included Hymenoptera, Collembola, Chilopoda, Diplopoda, Araneida, and larval Diptera, Oligochaeta, Coleoptera, and Pulmonata (Fraser, 1976a).
O. Predators. Unknown, but likely include forest birds, small mammals, and snakes.
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. All Plethodon produce noxious skin secretions (Brodie, 1977). Shenandoah Mountain salamanders frequently become immobile when initially contacted. Shenandoah Mountain salamanders were included in a field study on immobility, however it is not possible to separate their behavior from Valley and Ridge salamanders 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. Shenandoah Mountain salamanders are not conserved in either of the two states within their range. Within this range, however, there is a large amount of federal land that contains suitable habitat for these salamanders.
The range of Shenandoah Mountain salamanders is approximately the same as Cow Knob salamanders. Several conservation measures have been implemented to ensure the viability of Cow Knob salamander populations (Mitchell and Pauley, 2002) that also should benefit Shenandoah Mountain salamanders. Threats to Cow Knob salamanders that may also pertain to Shenandoah Mountain salamanders include logging operations and the loss of hemlock trees by the introduced hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), as well as defoliation of canopy hardwood trees by the introduced gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar; Mitchell and Pauley, 2002).
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. 2020. <http://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 19 Sep 2020.
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