Southern Appalachian Salamander
© 2016 Dr. Joachim Nerz (1 of 10)
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
Plethodon teyahalee Hairston, 1950
David A. Beamer1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Southern Appalachian salamanders (Plethodon teyahalee) are distributed in the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province of southeastern Tennessee, southwestern North Carolina, northwestern South Carolina (Oconee, Pickens, and Anderson counties), and northeastern Georgia (Rabun County; Highton, 1987a; Petranka [as P. oconaluftee], 1998). Adults are found up to 1,550 m in elevation. There is no evidence that the current distribution differs markedly from the historical distribution.
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Many southern Appalachian salamander populations occur on federal lands and thus receive some protection. Indeed, Hairston and Wiley (1993) monitored southern Appalachian salamander populations for almost two decades and found no evidence of declines. However, Highton (2003), working more recently, has found evidence of declines in southern Appalachian salamander populations from Graham, Macon, and Madison counties in North Carolina, and from Monroe County in Tennessee, but not from Pickens County, South Carolina. Additional monitoring will be required to determine whether these data reflect true declines or natural population fluctuations. Southern Appalachian salamanders disappeared from clearcut areas in Macon County, North Carolina (Ash, 1988).
3. Life History Features.
A. Breeding. Reproduction is terrestrial. Adults probably breed during the autumn (September–October, perhaps as early as August, but not earlier; R. Highton, personal communication) when Jordan's salamanders (P. jordani) breed, because these two species will hybridize.
i. Breeding migrations. Undocumented, but breeding migrations are not known for 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. Likely to be the same as egg deposition sites; presumably in chambers underground.
ii. Parental care. Unknown, but it is likely that females brood, as with other members of the slimy salamander complex.
D. Juvenile Habitat. During August at Farr Gap in Monroe County, Tennessee, juvenile southern Appalachian salamanders were commonly found in the same area as adults, but were frequently found under small superficial cover such as twigs and bits of bark (D.A.B., personal observations).
E. Adult Habitat. During the day, adults typically are found under cover objects (rocks and logs) in deciduous forests. At night, adults emerge to feed on the forest floor. As with other Plethodon species, activity corresponds with moisture levels.
F. Home Range Size. Adult male southern Appalachian salamanders in the Great Smoky Mountains have an average home range of 0.49 m2. Adult females have an average home range of 1.03 m2. Two- and three-year-olds have average home ranges of 0.37 m2 and 0.06 m2, respectively (Nishikawa, 1990).
G. Territories. At least some members of the Plethodon glutinosus complex aggressively defend territories (Thurow, 1976); it is unknown whether southern Appalachian 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.
I. Seasonal Migrations. Huheey and Stupka (1967) reported finding slimy salamanders during every month of the year in the Great Smoky Mountains. These observations probably pertain to, at least in part, southern Appalachian salamanders. Animals likely make vertical migrations, moving from the forest floor to underground sites with the onset of seasonally related cold or dry conditions, then back up to the forest floor with the return of favorable surface conditions.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Undocumented, but Plethodon salamanders move from forest-floor habitats to underground sites in response to cold surface conditions.
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. In the Great Smoky Mountains, the following species were encountered on experimental plots with southern Appalachian 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), Jordan's salamanders (P. jordani), spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus), red salamanders (Pseudotriton ruber), and Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders (Eurycea wilderae). At plots in the Balsam Mountains, all the above species were also found, with the exception of imitator salamanders and Jordan's salamanders. However, southern gray-cheeked salamanders (P. metcalfi) and eastern newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) were also found in the Balsam Mountains (Hairston, 1980b, 1981).
In the vicinity of Santeetlah Creek, Graham County, North Carolina, southern Appalachian salamanders have been found with black-bellied salamanders, Ocoee salamanders, santeetlah dusky salamanders (D. santeetlah), seepage salamanders (D. aeneus), southern red-backed salamanders (P. serratus), spring salamanders, and Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders (Eurycea wilderae; D.A.B., personal observations).
Ash (1997) reports the following salamanders along with southern Appalachian salamanders from near Highlands, Macon County, North Carolina: Ocoee salamanders (D. ocoee), southern red-backed salamanders (P. serratus), southern gray-cheeked salamanders (P. metcalfi), and Blue Ridge two-lined salamanders (Eurycea wilderae; Ash, 1997).
Southern Appalachian salamanders contact Chattahoochee slimy salamanders (P. chattahoochee) in Clay County, North Carolina. A transect in the vicinity of Hayesville indicates there is a narrow hybrid zone (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Southern Appalachian salamanders are sympatric with Tellico salamanders (P. aureolus) throughout the range of Tellico salamanders. There is no morphological or genetic evidence of hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Southern Appalachian salamanders contact northern slimy salamanders (P. glutinosus) 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).
An unusual association consisting of three members of the P. 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).
Southern Appalachian salamanders probably contact white-spotted slimy salamanders (P. cylindraceus) along the North Carolina–South Carolina state line at the headwaters of the French Broad River. There are no data on their genetic interaction (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
An unusual association of large eastern Plethodon occurs in the vicinity of Rabun Bald, Rabun County, Georgia. Here, southern Appalachian salamanders are sympatric with Atlantic Coast slimy salamanders (P. chlorobryonis); and there is no evidence of hybridization between these species. However, there is a wide hybrid zone between Atlantic Coast slimy salamanders and a member of the P. jordani complex, the southern gray-cheeked salamanders. Thus, two members of the P. glutinosus complex contact without hybridization in the same area in which one of them hybridizes with a member of the P. jordani complex. Southern Appalachian salamanders also contact Atlantic Coast slimy salamanders in northwestern South Carolina, where there is a parapatric hybrid zone in Anderson and Abbeville (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Southern Appalachian salamanders are widely sympatric with the Max Patch and Sandymush isolates of northern gray-cheeked salamanders (P. montanus). There is no known morphological or genetic evidence of hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Southern Appalachian salamanders are widely sympatric with the Blue Ridge, Balsam, and Cowee isolates of southern gray-cheeked salamanders (P. metcalfi). There is no evidence of hybridization except at one site along Alarka Creek in the northern Cowee isolate where there is considerable hybridization (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
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 (P. jordani). 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).
Southern Appalachian salamanders are sympatric throughout the range of Cheoah Bald salamanders (P. cheoah) and rarely hybridize. Instead of being replaced at higher elevations, southern Appalachian salamanders occur in sympatry to the top of the highest mountain in the Cheoah isolate (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Southern Appalachian salamanders hybridize at all known contacts with red-legged salamanders (P. shermani). In the area between the Standing Indian, Wayah, and Tusquitee isolates of red-legged salamanders, all populations appear to be hybrid swarms (Highton and Peabody, 2000).
Hairston (1980b, 1981) demonstrated competition between southern Appalachian salamanders and Jordan's salamanders in the Great Smoky Mountains, and between southern Appalachian salamanders and southern gray-cheeked salamanders in the Balsam 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. Similar results were obtained from the experiments in the Balsam Mountains involving southern Appalachian salamanders and southern gray-cheeked salamanders, except that it took a longer amount of time for the populations to respond to the absence of the other species. 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, southern Appalachian salamanders and Jordan's salamanders (P. jordani) replace one another altitudinally. At two of four transects there is no elevational overlap in the occurrence of these two species; while at two other transects there is elevational overlap of 3–8 m (Hairston, 1951).
In the Nantahala Mountains, North Carolina, southern Appalachian salamanders and red-legged salamanders replace one another altitudinally. On two transects there is no elevational overlap of the occurrence of these two species, while at a third transect on this mountain there is vertical overlap of 61 m (200 ft; Hairston, 1951).
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Females first lay eggs when ≥ 5 yr old (Hairston, 1983).
M. Longevity. No published data exist on longevity (Petranka, 1998).
N. Feeding Behavior. Weller (1931) listed the following food items for an animal that may have been a southern Appalachian salamander: a millipede, an isopod, a mollusk, a beetle, a lepidopteran larva, ants, and flies (see Highton, 1987a, for a discussion).
The following food items were reported for southern Appalachian salamanders from Porters’ Creek Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Gastropoda, Diplopoda, Chilopoda, Isopoda, Phalangidea, Pseudoscorpionida, Aranae, Acarina, Collembola, Homoptera, Hemiptera, Coleoptera, Diptera, Formicidae, non-formicid-Hymenoptera, and insect larvae. Variation observed in the diet may indicate seasonal availability of food items (Powders and Tietjen, 1974).
There is evidence that southern Appalachian salamanders occasionally eat other salamanders. The bones of a salamander were found in the gut of a specimen collected in Sevier County, Tennessee. The specific identity of the salamander could not be determined (Powders and Tietjen, 1974).
O. Predators. Undocumented, but likely include forest-dwelling snakes, birds, and small mammals.
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Nocturnal. Secretive. All members of the genus Plethodon produce noxious skin secretions (Brodie, 1977). Members of the Plethodon glutinosus complex frequently become immobile when initially contacted. Southern Appalachian 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. Southern Appalachian salamanders are sometimes infected by the astomatous ciliate, Cepedietta michiganensis. Infection rates seem to decrease at higher altitudes and during the spring (Powders, 1970).
4. Conservation. Southern Appalachian salamanders are not protected by any of the states within their range. Among members of the P. glutinosus complex, southern Appalachian salamanders have one of the smaller distributions. Within their range there are many federal and state properties that contain suitable habitat for these salamanders.
Southern Appalachian salamanders are relatively resilient to disturbances such as those associated with timbering operations and frequently are found in second-growth forests (D.A.B., personal observations).
As with all species of Plethodon, southern Appalachian 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.
Feedback or comments about this page.
Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2019. <http://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 26 Apr 2019.
AmphibiaWeb's policy on data use.