Patuxent Wildlife Research Center



Order Caudata (Salamanders)

Seven families in the Order Caudata are found in the Northeast (Petranka 1998). The family Plethodontidae (lungless salamanders) is the most species-rich family in the region, with 43 species. Plethodontids are more diverse in the Southeast region, and reach their greatest diversity further south in southern Mexico and Central America. The second most species-rich family in the Northeast region is the family Ambystomatidae (mole salamanders), with nine species. The other families (Cryptobranchidae, Sirenidae, Amphiumidae, Proteidae, and Salamandridae) are represented in the Northeast by only one or two species each. Members of two families, Sirenidae and Amphiumidae, are only found in one state within the Northeast (Virginia). Ten salamander species, all within the family Plethodontidae (Gyrinophilus subterraneus, Plethodon hoffmani, P. hubrichti, P. nettingi, P. punctatus, P. shenandoah, P. sherando, P. virginia, Pseudotriton montanus montanus, Pseudotriton ruber ruber), are endemic to the Northeast. These species typically have limited distributions, sometimes isolated to only a few mountaintops or caves, and most are found in Virginia and West Virginia. The longevity of salamanders varies from 1 to 30 years (Flower 1925).


A. Aquatic Salamanders

1. River and Stream (Lotic) Salamanders
Large fully aquatic salamanders (Cryptobranchus, Necturus) are found in large streams and rivers. Eggs are deposited in vegetation, debris, or under rocks in the water. Young pass through a larval stage, and adults remain aquatic. Some adults even retain larval features (e.g., exposed gills in Necturus). Small aquatic salamanders (Desmognathus, Eurycea, Gyrinophilus, Pseudotriton) frequent smaller streams and seeps. In this group, larval development occurs within streams, but after metamorphosis, adults spend part of their life history in the leaf litter and rocky substrate alongside streams.
2. Pond-breeding (Lentic) Salamanders
Siren species are entirely aquatic and inhabit various types of vegetated ponds and mucky swamps. Amphiuma species generally are aquatic, although eggs are deposited on land near water. Notophthalmus and most Ambystoma species may use temporary ponds to complete metamorphosis. After metamorphosis, these species spend a considerable amount of time in terrestrial habitats. Ambystoma talpoideum and Notophthalmus viridescens have individuals or populations that are facultative paedomorphs, retaining larval features as adults and not metamorphosing in some areas as long as permanent water remains.

Adult Eurycea longicauda on stream-side rocky substrate
Adult Eurycea longicauda on
stream-side rocky substrate

B. Terrestrial Salamanders

In the family Plethodontidae, all members of the Tribe Plethodontinii and several salamanders in the subfamily Desmognathinae are entirely terrestrial and do not use standing water for reproduction. These salamanders deposit their eggs in moist areas and the young develop within the eggs and hatch as miniature adults. For most salamanders in this group, eggs are laid in underground retreats, under rocks, or beneath or within rotting logs. For some Northeast species, nests in the wild have never been found (e.g., Plethodon hubrichti, P. punctatus). During favorable moist conditions, terrestrial salamanders actively forage on the surface of the forest floor, in leaf litter, arboreally, or under surface debris such as rocks and logs. During dry periods, these salamanders retreat underground to moist areas. Their survival depends on maintaining a moist skin surface to allow cutaneous respiration.

Adult Plethodon cinereus on top of forest floor leaf litter
Adult Plethodon cinereus on
top of forest floor leaf litter

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