Monday, August 5, 2013

Slimy Salamander

Slimy Salamander - Mark Bower
This has been the Year of the Herps.  I have spent hours lifting rocks and logs in the woods, looking for different species of salamanders and have found one.  My editor, being more intelligent and organized than I, hasn't lifted rock one and has found one.  Sometimes intelligence beats hard work.
Barb's Slimy
Barb stepped into our well house and spotted a black 6 inch salamander standing still on the dark wet concrete, trying to avoid detection.  She returned to the house to find Tom Johnson's Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri and identified it as a slimy salamander.  It hadn't moved when she took me out to see it.


That seemed simple enough but soon I was lost deep in the taxonomic jungle of amphibians.  Tom Johnson has changed the slimy salamander, Plethodon glutinosus, to a western slimy salamander in the latest edition... but it calls it Plethodon albagula instead.  Meanwhile Amphibiaweb.org and several others call it northern slimy salamander although it ranges down to Texas.  Savana River site calls it a complex of 13 species (complex I agree), saying only that "They all look similar and are best differentiated by range."  I am considering calling them all "Fred."

The slimy is a glistening black with silver spots and a rounded tail.  They secrete a sticky substance on their skin which is thick and difficult to get off your fingers. This secretion is thought to inhibit movement and chewing functions of predators.  In spite of this, they breathe through their skin and lack lungs.  Their first defense is holding perfectly still, a position they may continue for over 10 minutes to escape detection.

According to Wikipedia there are two populations, one in southern Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma and the other in Texas.  They are found under rocks and logs in woods and ravines.  They lay their eggs under damp logs or underground and their larvae have no aquatic phase as do many salamanders.  A unique feature is the suspending of their eggs from the "ceiling" of the cavity.  The adults guard the eggs during the incubation period.*

I didn't find anything on their diet but suspect that insects make up a large part of it.  Our well house has a concrete floor which varies from damp to standing water and is filled with house crickets which explode into action when you open the door.  Sounds like slimy salamander heaven.

The Amphibians and Reptiles of Missouri, Tom Johnson.
Extensive information is at amphibiaweb.org.
Decline of amphibian populations at freshare.net

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