Plethodon nettingiCheat Mountain Salamander

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Geographic Range

Cheat Mountain salamanders are limited in distribution to 4 counties in West Virginia: Randolph, Pocahontas, Tucker, and Pendleton counties. This salamander’s habitat stretches approximately 30 by 80 km from McGowan Mountain to Backbone Mountain, in Tucker County (Green and Pauley 1987). (Green and Pauley, 1987; Green and Pauley, 1987)

Habitat

Cheat Mountain salamanders are limited to areas of young red spruce (Picea rubens) and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) in West Virginia forests. They have been discovered on the southern face of the Cheat Mountain Range at high altitudes of 960 m. An individual salamander was discovered in 2002 in an open-canopied Sphagnum/Picea wetland in Canaan Valley (Tucker County, West Virginia; K. Francl, personal communication). During the day, Cheat Mountain salamanders reside under long, flat rocks or on the inside of fallen and rotting spruce logs. At twilight they can move short distances to nearby spruce trees (Green and Pauley 1987). (Green and Pauley, 1987)

  • Average elevation
    960 m
    3149.61 ft

Physical Description

Cheat Mountain salamanders are dark brown or black, though the color tends to be lighter around the throat. They have tiny spots of gold on their dorsal surfaces (Brooks 1948). These slim and petite salamanders usually mature to a size of 10.2 cm (Green and Pauley 1987). Adults tend to have 17 to 19 coastal grooves, and an average of 5.5 coastal folds. Males often have larger, more engorged snouts (Thurow 1955). (Brooks, 1948; Green and Pauley, 1987; Thurow, 1955)

  • Average length
    10.2 cm
    4.02 in

Development

Cheat Mountain salamander eggs are approximately 4.9 to 5.0 mm when fertilized. When they are hatched they measure from 1.7 to 1.8 cm. During development, young have extremely large gills for sufficient oxygen flow through the jellied membranes, which prevent dehydration of the embryos (Lynn 1961). These salamanders continue to grow in size non-uniformly - the tail grows first and then the abdomen (Thurow 1955) continues to grow and stretch until reaching adult size (Green and Pauley 1987). Adults may reach 10.2 cm. During development young have extremely large gills for sufficient oxygen flow through the jellied membranes, which prevent dehydration of the embryos (Lynn 1961). (Green and Pauley, 1987; Lynn, 1961; Thurow, 1955)

Reproduction

Not much is known about mating in Cheat Mountain salamanders. However, in a close relative, Plethodon cinereus, larger males that attract the most females tend to roam in prey-filled territories that lack the scent of other females. Once the two sexes have paired, they each defend a territory: males defend territories from outside males, and females defend against outside females. Couples have the most success in their defense. Plethodon cinereus individuals are serially monogamous, choosing a different mate for each mating effort, but staying with that mate throughout the mating effort. Males begin to guard their females and can even discipline their mate by threatening postures or nipping the female if he catches another male’s odor. (Ng and Wilbur, 1995)

Cheat Mountain salamander breeding season begins during the spring and lasts through autumn. Spermatophores are transferred in late spring. The gestation period is approximately 1 to 2 months, then the eggs are deposited into cracks of decomposing spruce logs and secured by small pedicles (stalk-like structures). The unpigmented eggs have large yolks compared to other plethodontid salamanders. Pletodon nettingi have eggs and egg masses very similar to those of Plethodon cinereus. Egg masses vary from 4 to 17 eggs, ranging from 0.49 to 0.50 cm wide (Green and Pauley 1987), with at least one or two females very close in proximity to their brood. However, the masses of different mothers are usually very spread out; it is very rare to find more than one clutch in the same spruce log (Brooks 1948). After a period of three to six months growth inside the egg, these broods then hatch from late August to early September (Lannoo 2010); the young vary from 1.7 to 1.8 cm long at hatching (Green and Pauley 1987). The only aspect of sexual maturity known about Cheat Mountain salamanders is that they reach maturity when males have swollen cloacas and squared-off snouts, and females have mature follicles (Lannoo 2010). As for age of maturation, Plethodon cinereus is about 3 or 4 years of age (Prosen et al. 2006), one may assume the same range for Cheat Mountain salamanders. (Brooks, 1948; Green and Pauley, 1987; Lannoo, 2010; Prosen, et al., 2006)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding occurs once a year.
  • Breeding season
    Cheat Mountain salamanders breed from the beginning of spring to the end of autumn
  • Range number of offspring
    4 to 17
  • Average number of offspring
    10
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 4 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 4 years

Not much is known about Cheat Mountain salamander parental investment, but in Plethodon cinereus, the father provides protection only during the breeding season, while the mother cares for her young until they become independent at 6 to 9 weeks old. Instead of leaving the clutch unguarded, females will live off of food stores in their tail and belly. The mother also will sometimes nudge or agitate the eggs in order to stimulate healthy development, and prevent deformations when growth occurs all on one side. She also keeps in close contact with her eggs to provide moisture. The mother defends her nest and continues her parental care until several weeks after hatching (Ng and Wilbur 1995). In one instance a mother was found caring for 8 juveniles (Green and Pauley 1987). (Green and Pauley, 1987; Ng and Wilbur, 1995)

  • Parental Investment
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

Although not much is known about the longevity of Cheat Mountain salamanders, studies of Plethodon cinereus indicate an average lifetime of 8 years for females and approximately 9 years for males (Leclair et al. 2006). (Leclair, et al., 2006)

Behavior

Cheat Mountain salamanders are often found under and around large rocks or fallen spruce logs near conspecifics during the day. Although activity is nocturnal, it is dependent upon humidity. On warm and moist evenings P. nettingi will remain active for several hours. On cool, dry nights this salamander emerges for shorter periods (Green and Pauley 1987). Desmognathus ochropheaus, Plethodon cinereus and Plethodon wehrlei are other salamanders most associated within the habitat of P. nettingi. All four species can be located in stands of spruce trees in the pole stage (Brooks 1948). One of the unique aspects about the Plethodon species is that, when presented with danger, these salamanders remain immobile. In one experiment 74.4% of salamanders were still from 1 to 180 seconds whenever they sense danger (Dodd Jr. 1989). (Brooks, 1948; Dodd, Jr., 1989; Green and Pauley, 1987)

Home Range

Although not much is known about the actual size of home ranges of Cheat Mountain salamanders homerange, 15 X 15 m is the approximate area for Plethodon kentucki (Marvin 1998). (Brooks, 1948; Marvin, 1998)

Communication and Perception

Testing has showed that Cheat Mountain salamanders have noxious skin properties. Their predators receive a mouthful of white slime originating from the tail region. The predators’ mouths swell up and swallowing becomes increasingly difficult (Dodd et al. 1974). Cheat Mountain salamanders use chemical and tactile cues in mating as well. (Brodie, et al., 1974)

Food Habits

Cheat Mountain salamanders are insectivores. One study of stomach contents of 42 salamanders found 42.1% mites (Acari), 17.8% springtails (Collembola), 16.4% beetles (Coleoptera), 9.3% flies (Diptera), 4.3% ants (Hymenoptera), and 10% other insects or arthropods (Green and Pauley 1987). (Green and Pauley, 1987)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Predation

Common predators of Cheat Mountain salamanders are southern short-tailed shrews (Blarina carolinensis), common garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis), and ring-necked snakes (Diadophis punctatus) (Lannoo 2010). A series of experiments were completed where a number of animals were provided with P. nettingi as part of their diet: blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata), hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus), sungazers (Cordylus giganteus), and Sonoran mud turtles (Kinosternon sonoriense). These experiments showed that Cheat Mountain salamanders have skin with noxious properties. Those predators, after attempting to eat P. nettingi, had difficulty chewing, swollen tongues, and a sticky white substance seeming to glue the jaws together. After a few of these experiments, the predators learned to avoid Cheat Mountain salamanders (Dodd et al. 1974). (Brodie, et al., 1974; Dodd, Jr., et al., 1974; Lannoo, 2010)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Plethodontid salamanders are important members of foods webs, providing both indirect as well as direct methods of biotic control of species. They also contribute to soil dynamics through their tunneling activities (Davic and Welsh Jr. 2004). Interspecific competition has been noted between Plethodon nettingi and Plethodon cinereus in areas of common habitat. Food foraging and aggression towards non-conspecifics have caused competitive exclusion of P. nettingi by P. cinereus (Kaplan 1977). (Davic and Welsh Jr., 2004; Kaplan, 1977)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Plethodontid salamanders offer an important benefit to humans as indicator species of forested ecosystem health. In an experiment using leaf litter enclosures, the keystone-species Plethodon cinereus, a sister species to P. nettingi, was determined to be a strong regulator of forest floor invertebrate popluations (Davic and Welsh Jr. 2004). (Davic and Welsh Jr., 2004)

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Plethodon nettingi on humans.

Conservation Status

Cheat Mountain salamanders are federally listed as threatened. The main threat to P. nettingi is human-induced loss of habitat and degradation from mining, logging, recreational development, and road construction. Another limiting factor of Cheat Mountain Salamanders is competition with red-bellied salamanders (Plethodon cinereus). (Hammerson, 2009)

Contributors

Cassandra Leiter (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

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.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

cryptic

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.

ectothermic

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

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

heterothermic

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.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

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).

metamorphosis

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.

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

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.

nocturnal

active during the night

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

poisonous

an animal which has a substance capable of killing, injuring, or impairing other animals through its chemical action (for example, the skin of poison dart frogs).

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

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).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

threatened

The term is used in the 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V), Rare (R), Indeterminate (I), or Insufficiently Known (K) and in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals to refer collectively to species categorized as Critically Endangered (CR), Endangered (EN), or Vulnerable (VU).

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

1996. Salamander Diversity and Abundance Along Buck Run in The Laurel Fork Area of Highland County, Virginia. Catesbeiana, 16: 35-43.

Brodie, E., J. Johnson, K. Dodd Jr.. 1974. Immobility as a Defensive Behavior in Salamanders. Herpetologica, 30: 79-85.

Brooks, M. 1945. Notes on Amphibians from Bickle's Knob, West Virginia. Copeia, 4: 231.

Brooks, M. 1948. Notes on the Cheat Mountain Salamander. Copeia, 4: 239-244.

Davic, R., H. Welsh Jr.. 2004. On the Ecological Roles of Salamanders. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 35: 405-434.

Dillard, L., K. Russell, W. Ford. 2008. Macrohabitat models of occurrence for the threatened Cheat Mountain salamander, Plethodon nettingi. Applied Herpetology, 5: 201-224.

Dillard, L., K. Russell, W. Ford. 2008. Site-level habitat models for the endemic, threatened Cheat Mountain salamander (Plethodon nettingi): the importance of geophysical and biotic attributes for predicting occurrence. Biodivers Conserv, 17: 1475–1492.

Dodd, Jr., C., J. Johnson, E. Brodie, Jr.. 1974. Noxious Skin Secretions of an Eastern Small Plethodon, P. nettingi hubrichti. Journal of Herpetology, 8: 89-92.

Dodd, Jr., K. 1989. Duration of Immobility in Salamanders, Genus plethodon (Caudata: Plethodontidae). Herpetologica, 45: 467-473.

Green, N., T. Pauley. 1987. Amphibians and Reptiles in West Virginia. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburg Press.

Hammerson, G. 2009. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Plethodon nettingi. Accessed February 01, 2010 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/17627/0.

Kaplan, D. 1977. Exploitative Competition in Salamanders: Test of a Hypothesis. Copeia, 2: 234-238.

Lannoo, M. 2010. "Plethodon nettingi" (On-line). AmphibiaWeb. Accessed March 12, 2010 at http://amphibiaweb.org/cgi-bin/amphib_query?rel-common_name=like&rel-family=equals&rel-ordr=equals&rel-isocc=like&rel-description=like&rel-distribution=like&rel-life_history=like&rel-trends_and_threats=like&rel-relation_to_humans=like&rel-comments=like&rel-submittedby=like&query_src=aw_search_index&max=200&orderbyaw=Family&where-scientific_name=plethodon+nettingi&where-common_name=&where-subfamily=&where-family=any&where-ordr=any&where-isocc=&rel-species_account=matchboolean&where-species_account=&rel-declinecauses=equals&where-declinecauses=&rel-iucn=equals&where-iucn=&rel-cites=equals&where-cites=&where-submittedby=.

Leclair, M., M. Levasseur, R. Leclair, Jr.. 2006. Life-History Traits of Plethodon cinereus in the Northern Parts of Its Range: Variations in Population Structure, Age and Growth. Herpetologica, Vol. 62, No. 3: 265-282.

Lynn, W. 1961. Types of Amphibian Metamorphosis. American Zoologist, 1: 151-161.

Marvin, G. 1998. Territorial Behavior of the Plethodontid Salamander Plethodon kentucki: Influence of Habitat Structure and Population Density. Oecologia, Vol. 114, No. 1: 133-144.

Mason, J., M. Rabin, D. Stevens. 1982. Conditioned Taste Aversions: Skin Secretions Used for Defense by Tiger Salamanders, Ambystoma tigrinum. Copeia, 3: 667-671.

Ng, M., H. Wilbur. 1995. The Cost of Brooding in Plethodon cinereus. Herpetologica, 51: 1-8.

Pauley, T. 2008. The Appalachian Inferno: Historical Causes for the Disjunct Distribution of Plethodon nettingi (Cheat Mountain Salamander). Northeastern Naturalist, 15: 595–606.

Prosen, E., R. Jaeger, J. Hucko. 2006.

Sexual Coercion in the Salamander Plethodon cinereus: Is It Merely a Result of Familiarity?
. Herpetologica, Vol. 62, No. 1: 10-18.

Stephenson, S., J. Clovis. 1983. Spruce Forests of the Allegheny Mountains in Central West Virginia. Castanea, 43: 1-12.

Thurow, G. 1955. Plethodon nettingi in Virginia. Herpetologica, 11: 102-103.