Pygmy salamanders can be found in mountainous areas ranging from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Great Smoky Mountains in the eastern United States. They are found most frequently in southwestern Virginia to the Georgia state line in southwestern North Carolina. (Mitchell and Reay, 1999; Petranka, 1998; Wilson, 1995)
Pygmy salamanders are found in humid forested areas and can be found under mosses and rotten logs. Dense populations of pygmy salamanders occur most often in highly elevated spruce-fir forests, but also occur in hardwood forests in lower elevations. Elevations range from 800 m to 4500 m. (Martof, et al., 1980; Petranka, 1998; Wilson, 1995)
- Range elevation
- 800 to 4500 m
- 2624.67 to 14763.78 ft
Adult pygmy salamanders range in size from 30 to 51 mm. They can primarily be identified by their distinctive coppery red stripe that extends along the body to the rounded tail. The rounded tail is less than half of total body length. The eyelids are also a copper color, which is a trait that distinguishes pygmy salamanders from related species. At sexual maturity females tend to be larger than males. (Conant, 1958; Hining and Bruce, 2005; Petranka, 1998; Wilson, 1995)
- Sexual Dimorphism
- female larger
- Range length
- 30 to 51 mm
- 1.18 to 2.01 in
After hatching, pygmy salamanders resemble small adults. Gills that were used during the embryonic stage of development are reabsorbed immediately prior to hatching as well as caudal fins. Pygmy salamanders, which are commonly identified by their rounded tail end, are indistinguishable from other species of salamanders in the embryonic stage due to the compressed tail in the egg. (Martof, et al., 1980; Organ, 1961)
- Development - Life Cycle
Mating occurs twice a year during the fall and spring months. Adult male pygmy salamanders produce courtship pheromones to a desired female. In order for a male to mate with a female, the male salamander must use his jaws to attach himself to a female’s tail. This ritual is primary done to restrain the female and keep her from finding another mate. (Organ, 1961; Petranka, 1998)
- Mating System
Male pygmy salamanders deposit a spermatophore (a gelatinous package including sperm) on the ground, after which the female will take it into her cloaca. Females typically deposit eggs in a cluster during the late summer. Ideally, females deposit their eggs close to a permanent body of water, either a lake or a stream, but at higher elevations where standing water is absent, female salamanders lay their eggs on moist ground. Females lay an average of 10 eggs. Hatching usually occurs in mid to late October. Once hatched, the young are immediately independent and reach sexual maturity at 3.5 years for females and 4.5 years for males. (Organ, 1961; Petranka, 1998; Wilson, 1995)
- Key Reproductive Features
- seasonal breeding
- gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
- Breeding interval
- Breeding can occur twice yearly.
- Breeding season
- Pygmy salamanders breed in the late fall and late spring months.
- Range number of offspring
- 5 to 10
- Average time to hatching
- 2 months
- Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
- 4.5 years
- Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
- 3.5 years
Male pygmy salamanders do not play any role in helping with their young. However, females tend to eggs and to newly hatched salamanders. (Petranka, 1998)
- Parental Investment
- female parental care
Pygmy salamanders are nocturnal and solitary. They are very sedentary, mainly moving between elevations during breeding season. During nights where the humidity is especially high, they perch on plants where they feed. Seasonally, these salamanders relocate underground to conserve moisture. (Petranka, 1998)
Pygmy salamanders are motile, there is no data referring to how much pygmy salamanders move throughout their terrestrial environment.
Communication and Perception
Adult male pygmy salamanders produce courtship pheromones only to a desired female. Courtship pheromones are produced in the mental gland of the salamander. Also used in courtship are nasolabial grooves that are located in the snout of the salamander. These nasolabial grooves contain water born chemicals that are sent through nasal passages to the sensory epithelium. (Brown, 1968; Houck, 2008)
Pygmy salamanders primarily feed at night on small arthropods in the soil and leaf litter. (Wilson, 1995)
- Animal Foods
- terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus) and carabid beetles are major predators of pygmy salamander. Pygmy salamanders become immobile when threatened, becoming less appealing to predators. Pygmy salamanders are cryptically colored and tend to spend much of their time under cover to avoid detection. (Petranka, 1998; Petranka, 1998)
- Anti-predator Adaptations
Pygmy salamanders are the most terrestrial species of salamander in the genus Desmognathus. All Desmognathus salamanders have different life cycles, body sizes, and behaviors, and are considered to inhabit different niches. All Desmognathus species are affected by a common leech parasite, Oligobdella biannulata. These leeches, when latched on to the body of a salamander, transfer trypanosome protozoans called trypanosome, which infect the blood stream of the salamander host. (Goater, 2000; Petranka, 1998; Wilson, 1995)
- leech (Oligobdella biannulata)
- trypanosomes (Trypanosoma)
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Pygmy salamanders are often studied in the wild for their reproductive strategy and reproductive behavior. These salamanders are also researched from an evolutionary standpoint to understand how they live in higher elevations compared to other species of salamanders. (Petranka, 1998; Wilson, 1995)
- Positive Impacts
- research and education
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
Pygmy salamanders are fairly common in spruce-fir forests of the southern Appalachians. These salamander populations are well conserved in Virginia and are listed as a species of least concern. (Hammerson, 2009; Petranka, 1998; Wilson, 1995)
Cecilia de la Garza (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
- bilateral symmetry
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature
- female parental care
parental care is carried out by females
union of egg and spermatozoan
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
- internal fertilization
fertilization takes place within the female's body
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.
Having one mate at a time.
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
- native range
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species
- scent marks
communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them
- seasonal breeding
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
uses sight to communicate
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