Western Slimy Salamander
© 2012 John P. Clare (1 of 16)
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States
Plethodon albagula Grobman, 1944
Carl D. Anthony1
1. Historical versus Current Distribution. Western slimy salamanders (Plethodon albagula) are widely distributed from Missouri south through the mountainous areas of Arkansas and extreme eastern Oklahoma. Disjunct populations occur in central Texas, with two isolates occurring in southeastern and northeastern Texas. There is some doubt concerning the presence of these populations, but museum records exist, as indicated below (R. Highton, personal communication). Western slimy salamanders were previously considered to be a subspecies of northern slimy salamanders (P. glutinosus), recognized as a species by Highton et al. (1989). Highton et al. (1989–addendum) noted that a population of Texas western slimy salamanders (the only light-chinned population examined) was the most divergent of albagula populations studied. Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma populations are dark-chinned, as are the eastern Texas isolates and some of the central Texas populations (Highton, 1962a). If a new taxonomy is proposed, light-chinned populations in Texas will retain the name albagula. Though no recent specimens have been collected in eastern Texas, the southeastern Texas localities are indicated on some recent range maps (Conant and Collins, 1991; Petranka, 1998), but not others (Dixon, 1987, 2000; Garrett and Barker, 1987) . Interestingly, the northeast Texas locality is reported as near the town of Big Sandy, while one of the southeastern Texas localities is near a town (Dallardsville) that was historically known as “Big Sandy."
2. Historical versus Current Abundance. Historical abundance unknown.
3. Life History Features.
A. Breeding. Reproduction is terrestrial.
i. Breeding migrations. In Oklahoma and Arkansas, males have well-developed mental glands in late spring and late fall. Gravid females began entering an abandoned mine shaft near Hot Springs, Arkansas, in late August and began exiting the mine in late December, after brooding their eggs (S. Trauth, personal communication).
ii. Breeding habitat. Perhaps the damp ravines, wooded hillsides, cave entrances, wooded canyons, and ravines of adult habitat (Grobman, 1944; Crowell, 1981; Johnson, 1987) or the caves and abandoned mines known to be used as egg deposition sites (Noble and Marshall, 1929; Wells and Gordon, 1958; Heath et al., 1986; S. Trauth, personal communication).
i. Egg deposition sites. Egg clutches have been reported in caves (Noble and Marshall, 1929; Wells and Gordon, 1958) and abandoned mines (Heath et al., 1986).
ii. Clutch size. Clutches with 18 and 10 eggs were found by Noble and Marshall (1929). Clutches with 8 and 11 eggs were reported by Wells and Gordon (1958). A clutch size range of 6–15 was reported from an abandoned mine shaft near Hot Springs, Arkansas (S. Trauth, personal communication).
C. Direct Development. Clutches were found with 18 eggs on 17 August and with 10 well-developed embryos on 3 September in an Arkansas cave (Noble and Marshall, 1929). On 27 October, clutches with 8 and 11 full-term embryos were reported from a Missouri cave (Wells and Gordon, 1958). In Arkansas, brooding females remain with their egg clutches for nearly 4 mo; hatching begins in late November to early December and continues until late January to mid February (S. Trauth, personal communication).
D. Juvenile Habitat. Same as adult habitat.
E. Adult Habitat. Damp ravines, wooded hillsides (Johnson, 1987), cave entrances (Crowell, 1981), wooded canyons, and ravines of the Edwards Plateau, Texas (Grobman, 1944).
F. Home Range Size. Home range size is unknown.
G. Territories. In Oklahoma, adults utilize the same cover objects from year to year (Anthony, 1995); in Arkansas, females use the same brooding sites from year to year (S. Trauth, personal communication). Adult males from Oklahoma (Anthony et al., 1997) and Arkansas (Forster, 1998) defend areas from conspecific intruders in laboratory chambers. Territory size is unknown.
H. Aestivation/Avoiding Dessication. Some Arkansas populations utilize caves during the summer (Crowell, 1981). Other populations remain underground from late May to mid September.
I. Seasonal Migrations. None reported.
J. Torpor (Hibernation). Northern populations become inactive in late November and return to the surface in late March. Southern populations are probably surface active during cool, wet periods throughout the year.
K. Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. Western slimy salamanders are found much less commonly than Rich Mountain Salamanders (P. ouachitae) where these species co-occur in the Ouachita Mountains (Pope and Pope, 1951; Spotila, 1972; Duncan and Highton, 1979). Western slimy salamanders may be excluded from areas by Rich Mountain salamanders (Anthony et al., 1997), perhaps through interspecific territoriality. In laboratory encounters, adult males were largely unsuccessful in usurping cover objects from smaller Rich Mountain salamanders (Anthony et al., 1997). Kuss (1986) found that habitat differed between the two species in Arkansas, with western slimy salamanders occurring more often at lower elevations, nearer to ravines, and under thinner vegetation than Rich Mountain salamanders. Spotila (1972) noted that western slimy salamanders are found in wetter microhabitats than are Rich Mountain salamanders. Dowling (1956) observed that western slimy salamanders become active on the forest floor later in the evening than do Rich Mountain salamanders, which may be able to withstand warmer conditions. Britton (1986) found that in northwestern Arkansas, where western slimy salamanders occur with northern zigzag salamanders (P. dorsalis), the latter is restricted to seepage-type habitats while western slimy salamanders are found more often in less mesic hillside habitats.
L. Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Adults probably mature at about 50 mm SVL.
M. Longevity. Individuals that were sexually mature when collected have been kept in the laboratory for 3 yr. Longevity is probably > 6 yr.
N. Feeding Behavior. Prey of specimens from central Texas consisted of hymenopterans (Formicidae), coleopterans, and isopods (Oliver, 1967). In northwestern Arkansas, Crowell (1981) found dipterans and formicids to be important prey of individuals utilizing cave entrances.
O. Predators. Unknown.
P. Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Nocturnal. All members of the genus Plethodon produce noxious skin secretions (Brodie, 1977). When handled, western slimy salamanders release an adhesive secretion that is difficult to remove from the fingers and hands (Johnson, 1987). Adults are agile and in some habitats flee to below ground retreats when disturbed (Pope and Pope, 1951).
Q. Diseases. Foot abnormalities, apparently developmental in origin, have been reported from a Hayes County, Texas, population (Lazell, 1995). The cause of these anomalies is unknown.
R. Parasites. Winter et al. (1986) found nematodes and protozoans in six adults from western Arkansas. McAllister et al. (C.T., 1993b) reported cestodes, nematodes, protozoans, and an acanthocephalon from 37 adults from throughout Arkansas. Intradermal mites (genus Hannemania) occasionally infest western slimy salamanders (Duncan and Highton, 1979), but they appear to be more resistant to mite infection than are other members of ouachitae complex (Anthony, 1995).
4. Conservation. Western slimy salamanders are widely distributed (see "Historical versus Current Distribution" above). Their historical abundance is unknown, but they are considered Protected by the State of Oklahoma, along the periphery of their range.
Acknowledgments. Richard Highton reviewed this account and provided valuable feedback.
1Carl D. Anthony
Literature references for Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species, edited by Michael Lannoo, are here.
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