AmphibiaWeb - Phaeognathus hubrichti


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Phaeognathus hubrichti Highton, 1961
Red Hills Salamander
family: Plethodontidae
subfamily: Plethodontinae
genus: Phaeognathus

© 2017 Dr. Joachim Nerz (1 of 12)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN Red List Status Account Endangered (EN)
NatureServe Use NatureServe Explorer to see status.
National Status Threatened (USFWS)
Regional Status None
Access Conservation Needs Assessment Report .



View distribution map in BerkeleyMapper.

Phaeognathus hubrichti is an elongated salamander with reduced limbs and a prehensile tail. P. hubrichti is uniform dark brown in coloration and lacks the light line from the eye to the jaw of other desmognathine salamanders. Elongation in P. hubrichti is due to an increased number of trunk vertebrae, 22 vertebrae in P. hubrichti while most other Desmognathines have 15 (Highton 1961).

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States

U.S. state distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Alabama


View distribution map in BerkeleyMapper.
Phaeognathus hubrichti is restricted steep mesic ravine habitats in the Tallahatta and Hatchetigbee geological formations between the Alabama and Conecuh Rivers in the Red Hills physiographic region of southern Alabama, USA (Schwaner and Mount 1970). Populations of P. hubrichti are patchy depending on appropriate habitat conditions. P. hubrichti have only been found in five counties: Butler, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Monroe. P. hubrichti was described by Highton (1961) based on the collection of the holotype by Dr. Leslie Hubricht and then redescribed by Valentine (1963a). Morphological features such as elongate form, reduced limbs, and eyelid morphology suggested Phaeognathus hubrichti was a burrowing salamander (Valentine 1963a).

Habitat preferred by Phaeognathus hubrichti is steep, mesic ravines shaded by a mature hardwood overstory (Jordan 1975; Schwaner and Mount 1970) P. hubrichti is almost entirely fossorial and appears to be found most often in areas of soft soil which allows burrowing. P. hubrichti burrows are often most abundant on the steepest regions of slopes (Valentine 1963b). Burrows are subject to constant erosion and burrow openings may only last a few motnhs, at which point the salamander must repair or reconstruct its burrow (Gunzburger and Guyer 1998).

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Because Phaeognathus hubrichti is a fossorial species, little is known of its behaviors and habits. Courtship, mating, and egg deposition probably all occur within burrow systems. There is no information available on courtship behavior, but fertilization is internal by means of a spermatophore. No aquatic larval stage is present. Eggs have never been found in nature, but based on enlarged ova in collected specimens Brandon (1965) suggested females lay eggs in April. Schwaner and Mount (1970) indicate the breeding season may extend for several months as a recently spent female was collected in September. Clutch size estimates from ova of females range from 4-6 (Petranka 1998) to 8-9 (Brandon 1965). A 115 mm SVL captive female laid 16 eggs about 7 mm in diameter (Brandon and Maruska 1982). Skeletochronological age estimates for P. hubrichti indicate individuals may live as long as 11 years and age is positively correlated with size (SVL) (Parham et al. 1996). This study suggested that female P. hubrichti may take 6 years to reach reproductive maturity (Parham et al. 1996).

Phaeognathus hubrichti are often observed sitting with just their head visible at the entrance of their burrow on moist nights. P. hubrichti probably forages opportunistically on any prey item that passes by the burrow entrance or enters the burrow. Diet of P. hubrichti consists of a variety of invertebrates including snails, beetles, ants, millipedes, and spiders (Brandon 1965; Gunzburger 1999).

Analysis of proteins from individuals from 13 populations of Phaeognathus hubrichti throughout their range suggests that there are 2 distinct geographic groups (McKnight et al. 1991). An effort to conserve population within both of these groups should be attempted.

Trends and Threats
Concern about the impact of forestry operations on the long-term survival of Phaeognathus hubrichti populations was first suggested by Jordan and Mount (1975). Clearcutting removal of the overstory of ravine habitats totally eliminated P. hubrichti populations (Schwaner and Mount 1978). P. hubrichti was listed by the USFWS as threatened in 1976 due to habitat loss and degradation, mostly through forestry operations (Schwaner and Mount 1978). Dodd (1991) resurveyed sites studied by Schwaner and Mount (1978), indicating that although some P. hubrichti populations appeared stable, many were declining apparently due to continued forestry practices. Dodd (1991) suggested 100-200 m buffer zones be left uncut near ravine slopes to reduce moisture loss.

Relation to Humans
Because Phaeognathus hubrichti is endemic to Alabama and possesses so many unique and interesting features, it has been named the State Amphibian of Alabama. Thus all citizens of Alabama can be proud of this unique part of their natural heritage and hopefully support its continued protection and conservation.

Possible reasons for amphibian decline

General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities

At one time, Phaeognathus hubrichti was considered possibly threatened by overcollection for museum specimens and subsequent destruction of habitat (Mount and Schwaner 1970). After its initial discovery under leaf litter at the type locality, herpetologists were unable to find additional specimens for some time. Valentine (1963a) suggested a collecting technique of locating salamanders in their burrow entrances and then driving a pick behind the salamander to prevent its escape down the burrow. Although obviously destructive to the fragile ravine habitat, this technique produced many museum specimens. Mount and Schwaner (1970) expressed concern at the destruction of the habitat of the type locality by collectors and suggested a new technique of "fishing" for P. hubrichti at the entrance to their burrows. A small fishhook baited with a cricket or spider is dangled in front of a P. hubrichti burrow and once the bait is taken the salamander can be gently pulled from its burrow. This technique rarely causes harm to salamanders and has been successfully employed in other studies (Gunzburger 1999). Due to its listing as a federally threatened species, collection of P. hubrichti is now prohibited.


Brandon, R. A. (1965). ''Morphological variation and ecology of the salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti.'' Copeia, 1965(1), 67-71.

Brandon, R. A. and Maruska, E. J. (1982). ''Phaeognathus hubrichti (Red Hills Salamander) reproduction.'' Herpetological Review, 13(2), 46.

Dodd, C. K., Jr. (1991). ''The status of the Red Hills Salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti, Alabama, USA, 1976-1988.'' Biological Conservation, 55(1), 57-75.

French, T. W. and Mount, R. H. (1978). ''Current status of the Red Hills Salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti Highton, and factors affecting its distribution.'' Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science, 49(4), 172-179.

Gunzburger, M. S. (1999). ''Diet of the Red Hills Salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti.'' Copeia, 1999(2), 523-525.

Gunzburger, M. S. and Guyer, C. (1998). ''Longevity and abandonment of burrows used by the Red Hills Salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti.'' Journal of Herpetology, 32(4), 620-623.

Highton, R. (1961). "A new genus of lungless salamander from the Coastal Plain of Alabama." Copeia, 1961(1), 65-68.

Jordan, J. R., Jr. (1975). Observations on the Natural History and Ecology of the Red Hills Salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti Highton (Caudata: Plethodontidae). Unpublished dissertation, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

Jordan, J. R., Jr. and Mount, R. H. (1975). ''The status of the Red Hills Salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti Highton.'' Journal of Herpetology, 9(2), 211-215.

McKnight, M. L., Dodd, C. K., Jr., and Spolsky, C. M. (1991). ''Protein and mitochondrial DNA variation in the salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti.'' Herpetologica, 47(4), 440-447.

Mount, R. H. and Schwaner, T. D. (1970). ''A technique for collecting the plethodontid salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti.'' Copeia, 1970(1), 205-206.

Parham, J. F., Dodd, C. K., Jr., and Zug, G. R. (1996). ''Skeletochronological age estimates for the Red Hills Salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti.'' Journal of Herpetology, 30(3), 401-404.

Petranka, J. W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. and London.

Schwaner, T. D. and Mount, R. H. (1970). ''Notes on the distribution, habits, and ecology of the Red Hills Salamander Phaeognathus hubrichti Highton.'' Copeia, 1970(3), 571-573.

Valentine, B. D. (1963). ''The plethodontid salamander Phaeognathus: collecting techniques and habits.'' Journal of the Ohio Herpetological Society, 4(1-2), 49-54.

Valentine, B. D. (1963). ''The plethodontid salamander Phaeognathus: external morphology and zoogeography.'' Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 76, 153-158.

Originally submitted by: Margaret S. Gunzburger (first posted 2001-03-25)
Edited by: Reference Changed by Ann T. Chang (2020-08-17)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2020 Phaeognathus hubrichti: Red Hills Salamander <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Apr 20, 2024.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2024. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 20 Apr 2024.

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