Order Caudata
Salamanders

Genus Plethodon


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Plethodon aureolus
Plethodon aureolus Highton - Tellico Salamander

Description: The recently described Tellico salamander, a large species very similar in its morphology to P. glutinosus and P. teyahalee (Highton, 1983), can be reliably distinguished from those two species only on the basis of biochemical characters. Adult P. aureolus, ranging from 10.0 to 15.1 cm in total length, are, on average, smaller than both P. glutinosus and P. teyahalee adults (Highton, 1983). Dorsal and lateral ground color is dark gray to black, with many large, brassy spots. Venter is dark gray to black, and chin is typically lighter in color than venter.

Distribution and Habitat: All locality data plotted were taken from Highton (1983), who defined the species' range to include the western slopes of the Unicoi Mountains and adjacent lowlands between the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee rivers. Typical habitat probably includes both upland and stream valley woodlands.

Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized (Highton, 1983, 1986a). According to Highton (1983), P. aureolus is sympatric with typical P. glutinosus on the western edge of the Unicoi Mountains and sympatric throughout its range with P. teyahalee (see account for P. teyahalee). Evidence exists of hybridization between P. aureolus and P. jordani (Highton,1983). Type locality is Farr Gap, Unicoi Mountains, Monroe County, Tennessee.


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Plethodon cinereus
Plethodon cinereus (Green) - Redback Salamander

Description: Plethodon cinereus is small, adults ranging in total length from 5.7 to 10.0 cm. It is similar to P. dorsalis and morphologically virtually indistinguishable from P. serratus. Dorsal coloration usually consists of a broad, straight-edged light red stripe extending from neck well onto tail, where it becomes conspicuously narrower. In individuals without the dorsal stripe, the dorsum is dark brown or black, with scattered light flecks and no red pigment. Venter is mottled with equal amounts of black and white, but typically lacks red markings. Costal groove counts range from 18 to 20.

Distribution and Habitat: As determined by Highton and Webster (1976), the range of P. cinereus in Tennessee includes the Blue Ridge Mountains north of the French Broad River. The redback salamander is found under logs, rocks, and leaf litter in upland forests. A Tennessee record of P. cinereus from outside the Blue Ridge Mountains was determined invalid by Grobman (1944), who provided substantial evidence that a specimen in the U.S. National Museum (USNM No. 57106), listed from Franklin County, Tennessee, was actually taken in Franklin County, Missouri.

Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized (Highton and Webster, 1976). Prior to Highton's and Webster's study, all populations of redback salamanders in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee were considered part of the same species, P. cinereus (Smith, 1963). In their study, they used biochemical differences to recognize part of the P. cinereus complex (including populations in the southern half of Tennessee's Blue Ridge Mountains) as a new species, P. serratus.


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Plethodon dorsalis
Plethodon dorsalis Cope - Zigzag Salamander

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Description: Total lengths of adults of this salamander range from 6.4 to 9.0 cm. Many individuals have a dorsal light red, brown, or yellowish stripe, with lobed or wavy margins, extending from neck well onto the tail. Stripe may appear to widen at base of tail. Other individuals have a uniformly dark brown or black dorsum. In the Central Basin of Middle Tennessee, a red shoulder patch is present in most individuals (Brian Miller, per. com.). Ventral surfaces are light, with profuse black or black and reddish mottling. Costal groove count is usually 18.

Distribution and Habitat: The species appears to be absent from elevations above 762 m in the Blue Ridge Mountains (King, 1939) and from most of the Coastal Plain of West Tennessee, where it is known from only two localities. Parker (1939) described one of the West Tennessee sites (in Obion County) as wooded hills east of Walnut Log and Reelfoot Lake, where he found specimens in leaf mats and near springs. Thurow (1966) characterized the same area as bluffs composed of consolidated loess that provided rock shelter habitats. Habitat data for the other Coastal Plain record (a Henry County locality) are lacking. Two specimens were taken from the Obion River area, Highway 69, north of Jones Mill (NLU Nos. 45756-45757). Elsewhere in Tennessee the species is usually found beneath leaf litter, rocks, and logs in mesic upland forests. The status of P. dorsalis in the Cumberland Mountains is poorly known and needs further study.

Taxonomy: According to Thurow (1966) and Conant and Collins (1991), only the nominate subspecies occurs in Tennessee.


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Plethodon glutinosus, Plethodon cylindraceus, and 

Plethodon mississippi
Plethodon glutinosus (Green) - Northern Slimy Salamander,
Plethodon cylindraceus (Harlan) - White-spotted Slimy Salamander,
Plethodon mississippi Highton - Mississippi Slimy Salamander

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Description: Like P. aureolus, P. kentucki, and P. teyahalee (treated elsewhere in separate accounts), these three species are also considered members of the P. glutinosus complex as defined by Highton et al. (1989). The three species treated in this account are large plethodontids, with adult total lengths ranging from 12.1 to 17.2 cm. The following descriptions are from Highton et al. (1989). Of the three, P. mississippi tends to be the smallest. Dorsal and lateral ground color is usually brown or black. Plethodon glutinosus and P. mississippi normally possesses large brassy colored dorsal spots, while P. cylindraceus has large white spots on the dorsum. Plethodon cylindraceus has abundant lateral white spots while P. glutinosus and P. mississippi may have both white and yellow lateral spotting. Plethodon cylindraceus is light chinned. Conant and Collins (1991) state that geography is an important criterion in identification of individuals of this species complex.

Distribution and Habitat: As depicted by Highton et al. (1989) and Conant and Collins (1991), the distributions of P. glutinosus, P. cylindraceus, and P. mississippi appear to be allopatric or with very narrow zones of sympatry. The literature and museum data presented on the map above are not based on biochemical analysis, and therefore could not be accurately assigned to any one species. The map should be viewed as a composite range map for all three species. The dark boundary lines approximate the boundaries of species' ranges, with P. mississippi in the Coastal Plain of West Tennessee, P. glutinosusin most of the eastern two-thirds of the state, and P. cylindraceus in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Ridge and Valley in northeastern Tennessee (Highton et al., 1989; Conant and Collins, 1991). Slimy salamanders exploit a wide variety of woodland habitats ranging from mesic bottomland hardwood to relatively dry hillside forests.

Taxonomy: No subspecific designations are recognized for any of these species. All three species, having been defined by biochemical characteristics, are similar in appearance and difficult to distinguish using traditional external taxonomic characteristics (Highton et al., 1989; Conant and Collins, 1991).


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Plethodon jordani
Plethodon jordani Blatchley - Jordan's Salamander

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Description: Jordan's salamander is a large plethodontid. Adult total lengths range from 9.0 to 12.5 cm. In most adults dorsal ground color is dark gray or black, with no white or brassy markings. However, individuals from the Unicoi Mountains in southeastern Tennessee typically have lateral white spots and flecks. Populations from the Great Smoky Mountains usually possess red cheek patches, whereas other Tennessee populations have cheeks essentially the same color as the dorsum. Venter is usually lighter than dorsum, and chin is usually lighter than rest of venter.

Distribution and Habitat: The Tennessee range of P. jordani includes high elevation habitats in the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. It occurs in moist woodlands from mountain summits down to 762 m elevation (Huheey and Stupka, 1967). Highton (1983) noted that what appeared to be P. jordani from several localities north of Jones Knob in the Unicoi Mountains in Monroe County was actually P. aureolus, and that Johns Knob was the northernmost locality for P. jordani in the Unicoi Mountains.

Taxonomy: Two races were formerly recognized from Tennessee. These were the uniformly black metcalfi race, and the red-cheeked jordani race (Conant, 1958). Highton (1962, 1973) studied variation in these forms and concluded that subspecific recognition was unwarranted. Highton and Henry (1970) reported some evidence of hybridization between P. jordani and P. glutinosus in the Great Smoky Mountains, but found substantial indications of hybridization with P. glutinosus in the Unicoi Mountains. Highton (1983) later described P. aureolus and P. teyahalee, two biochemically defined cryptic species of P. glutinosus, from the Unicoi Mountains of Tennessee and adjacent western North Carolina, and presented evidence of hybridization of both with P. jordani. Highton (1971) found no indication of hybridization of P. glutinosus and P. jordani east of the French Broad River. The type locality of P. jordani is near the divide along the Tennessee-North Carolina border in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.


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Plethodon kentucki
Plethodon kentucki Mittleman - Cumberland Plateau Woodland Salamander

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Description: Plethodon kentucki is a large plethodontid that is very similar to P. glutinosus. Though in areas of sympatry biochemical characteristics may be the only reliable basis for separating the two (Highton, 1986b), the following contrasting features may help distinguish the species. Adult P. kentucki, with total lengths ranging from 9.8 to 16.8 cm, are typically smaller than P. glutinosus. Dorsal and lateral color is black, with scattered white spots that are smaller and less numerous than those of P. glutinosus. Light spots on P. kentucki are not as brassy as those on P. glutinosus. Adult male P. kentucki have larger mental glands than adult males of P. glutinosus. Finally, the chin of P. kentucki is noticeably lighter than the very dark venter (a condition not usually true for P. glutinosus).

Distribution and Habitat: John MacGregor (pers. comm.) collected the only specimen known from Tennessee, and described its habitat as a shale outcrop bordering a gravel road. MacGregor suggests the species probably occurs elsewhere in the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee. In Kentucky P. kentucki and P. glutinosus are often sympatric (MacGregor, pers. comm.). Optimum habitat for P. kentucki is mature hardwood forests on steep slopes underlain by sandstone or shale (MacGregor, pers. comm.).

Taxonomy: Plethodon kentucki was originally described by Mittleman (1951) from eastern Kentucky. Clay et al. (1955) reduced P. kentucki to synonymy with P. glutinosus. After an analysis of both morphological and biochemical characteristics, Highton and MacGregor (1983) restored P. kentucki to species rank. No subspecies are recognized (Highton, 1986b).


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Plethodon richmondi
Plethodon richmondi Netting and Mittleman - Ravine Salamander

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Description: The ravine salamander is a small, worm-like plethodontid, with relatively short limbs. Adults attain total lengths of 7.5 to 11.5 cm. Dorsal and lateral surfaces are dark brown or black, with scattered silver, white, or brassy flecks. Plethodon richmondi differs from other small plethodontids in possessing a predominately dark brown or black venter. Costal groove counts range from 19 to 22.

Distribution and Habitat: Plethodon richmondi is known from northern portions of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian Ridge and Valley, and Cumberland Mountains. Typical habitat is mesic upland forests where individuals are usually found under rocks, logs, and leaf litter.

Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized (Conant and Collins, 1991). Thurow (1969) reported evidence of hybridization with P. cinereus on Iron and Houston mountains in northeastern Tennessee.


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Plethodon serratus
Plethodon serratus Grobman - Southern Redback Salamander

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Description: Plethodon serratus is a small plethodontid nearly identical morphologically to P. cinereus. Total length of adults ranges from 8.1 to 10.5 cm. Dorsal color pattern includes a straight-edged light red stripe that extends from neck well onto the tail, where it becomes conspicuously narrower. Rare individuals lack the dorsal stripe and are dark brown or black above, with scattered light flecks. Venter is mottled with equal amounts of black and white and usually has some red pigment. Costal groove counts range from 18 to 20.

Distribution and Habitat: Highton and Webster (1976) indicated that in Tennessee P. serratus occurs in the Blue Ridge Mountains south of the French Broad River. Like P. cinereus, P. serratus is found in terrestrial habits in upland forests.

Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized (Highton and Webster, 1976; Highton, 1986c). Highton and Webster (1976) elevated this form to species status based on biochemical characteristics (see account for P. cinereus).


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Plethodon teyahalee
Plethodon teyahalee Hairston - Southern Appalachian Slimy Salamander

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Description: The southern Appalachian slimy salamander is a large plethodontid that attains total lengths of 12.1 to 17.2 cm. Based on external characteristics, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish from its sympatric congeners, P. aureolus and P. glutinosus (Highton et al., 1989). The usually black dorsal ground color is punctuated with scattered small white spots. White spots on lateral surfaces are typically larger than those on dorsum. Small red spots may occur on legs. Chin is lighter than the normally gray venter. Conant and Collins (1991) note that geography is a critical criterion in field identification of individuals of the P. glutinosus complex.

Distribution and Habitat: Because of the difficulty of distinguishing specimens of P. teyahalee, P. glutinosus, and P. aureolus, locality data shown on the above map are exclusively from Highton (1983, 1987a). In Tennessee, P. teyahalee is known from mesic woodland habitats in the Unicoi Mountains in Monroe and Polk counties, and from the Great Smoky Mountains in Sevier and Cocke counties.

Taxonomy: Highton (1973) considered P. jordani teyahalee Hairston synonymous with P. glutinosus. Based on biochemical data, he subsequently determined that the teyahalee morph represented a separate species (Highton, 1983) provided numerous localities for P. teyahalee in the Unicoi Mountains in Monroe and Polk counties, and later (Highton, 1987a) provided a detailed account and range map for the species. Hairston (1993) pointed out that the name P. teyahalee was invalid due to the hybrid nature of the population where the type specimen was taken. He proposed a new name P. oconaluftee and designated a new type. Hybridization with P. jordani was reported by Highton (1983).


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Plethodon wehrlei
Plethodon wehrlei Fowler and Dunn - Wehrle's Salamander

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Description: Only two specimens (UTKVZC 06250 and 06985), one adult and one juvenile, are currently available from Tennessee (Redmond and Jones, 1985). The adult has a total length of 9.1 cm and a snout-vent length of 4.8 cm. The juvenile is 5.7 cm long overall, with a snout-vent length of 3.1 cm. Distinct webbing is present between all toes of both. When alive, the venter was gray and the dorsum was dark brown, with 8 to 10 irregularly shaped yellow spots.

Distribution and Habitat: The two Tennessee specimens of Wehrle's salamander were found at the same locality, a gorge in a mesic hardwood forest in the Cumberland Mountains. The adult was found in a crevice in a rock shelter on a shaded sandstone cliff face, and the juvenile from a path approximately 20 m from where the adult was taken. Both specimens were collected on warm, misty nights. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (1994a) lists this species as in need of management.

Taxonomy: According to Highton (1987b), no subspecies are recognized. Throughout the range of P. wehrlei, the yellow-spotted morph is rare and has been reported from only three localities (Cupp and Towles, 1983; Redmond and Jones, 1985). Richard Highton (pers. comm.) does not believe these populations deserve formal taxonomic recognition.


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Plethodon welleri
Plethodon welleri Walker - Weller's Salamander

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Description: Weller's salamander is a small plethodontid, with adults ranging from 6.4 to 7.9 cm in total length. The dorsum is black, washed with gold or brassy, irregular blotches. Venter is usually black, with numerous small white flecks or spots.

Distribution and Habitat: Plethodon welleri is restricted to the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeastern Tennessee. Populations are usually found above 762 m elevation on forested mountain summits, mesic woodland talus slopes, and in cove hardwood forests. Thurow (1963) reported a population at 700 to 732 m in a limestone cove forest dominated by hemlock and yellow birch. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (1994a) lists Weller's salamander as in need of management.

Taxonomy: Thurow (1964) lists one subspecies, P. w. ventromaculatus Thurow, from Tennessee. Conant and Collins (1991) do not recognize subspecies.


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Plethodon yonahlossee
Plethodon yonahlossee Dunn - Yonahlossee Salamander

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Description: Plethodon yonahlossee is a large plethodontid whose adult total length ranges from 11.5 to 18.0 cm. A wide, irregularly bordered dorsal red stripe extends from near the head onto the tail. This stripe may be partially or completely interrupted by black spots or blotches. Lateral surfaces are heavily marked with white or light gray. Venter is dark gray, usually with numerous scattered light spots. Throat is lighter.

Distribution and Habitat: In Tennessee, the range of P. yonahlossee is strikingly coincident with that of P. welleri. Both are found only in the Blue Ridge Mountains along the state's northeastern border. Yonahlossee salamanders occur in mature woodlands at elevations ranging from 732 to 1433 m.

Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized (Pope, 1965; Conant and Collins, 1991).


FROGS Literature Cited


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