Photo Credit: Scott Gravette
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Eurycea lucifuga
OTHER NAMES: None
DESCRIPTION: An exceptionally slender, four-legged salamander ranging from 4-8 inches in length. Adults are easily identified by their bright ground color, which varies in hue from a dull yellow-orange to a bright reddish-orange. Many small, irregular black dots cover the back in sporadic fashion. Cave Salamanders have a rather long tail relative to other lungless salamanders and long limbs adapted to climbing in and around rock crevices, the back feet being webbed. Juveniles are typically more yellow in color with shorter tails.
DISTRIBUTION: The distribution of cave salamanders roughly tracks the presence of karst (sandstone, limestone) formations above the Fall Line in the eastern United States, ranging from Missouri and Indiana eastward to the western front of the Appalachian Mountains. In Alabama, Cave Salamanders are present across northern portions of the state, generally north of the Fall Line. In eastern portions of the state above the Fall Line, Cave Salamanders are generally absent south of the Coosa River Valley.
HABITAT: The presence of karst (sandstone or limestone formations) is a key habitat requirement. Cave Salamanders are typically most abundant in caves, as their name implies. Within cave systems, Cave Salamanders are most common in the ‘twilight zone,’ or the area within the first few meters of the cave entrance where sunlight is allowed to penetrate. Cave Salamanders have also been found beneath rocks in underground streams associated with cave systems. Cave Salamanders have also been found in habitats not directly associated with caves, such as large sandstone and limestone outcrops such as those present in ‘canyons’ of northwest Alabama. When found on the surface away from rock formations, cave salamanders tend to be associated with extremely moist or muddy habitat, such as cypress swamps (Smith 1961).
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: Breeding in Cave Salamanders is thought to occur from fall to late winter, with eggs laid in recesses in cave walls and beneath rocks in or near water. Eggs have rarely been found, however, and some have been found to be laid singly, although between 60 and 120 ovarian eggs have been observed in a single individual (Trauth et al. 1990). Larvae, which have three rows of spots running down the back and pronounced tail fin, metamorphose at approximately 12-15 months. Data on age at sexual maturity in this species are sparse; however, it is commonly held that adults mature after at least 2 years from metamorphosis. The presence of cave salamanders in karst systems may limit the presence and/or abundance of other salamanders, such as the Long-tailed Salamander (Eurycea longicauda). Cave Salamanders also exhibit seasonal migrations within cave systems, typically moving from sites closer to the cave mouth in summer months to those farther from the cave mouth (and closer to the interior of the cave) during cooler months.
BASIS FOR STATUS CLASSIFICATION: Because of their secretive nature and hard-to-reach habitat, it is almost impossible to reach a definitive conclusion on the status of cave salamanders in Alabama.Cave Salamanders appear to be fairly common in Alabama; however, they are regarded as threatened and/or endangered in several other states, including Mississippi. Activities that degrade subsurface cave habitats or surface habitats adjacent to such areas are generally considered to be detrimental to populations of Cave Salamanders.
Smith, P.W. 1961. The amphibians and reptiles of Illinois. Bulletin of the Illinois Natural History Survey. Number 28, Urbana, Illinois.
Trauth, S.E., R.L. Cox, B.P. Butterfield, D.A. Saugey and W.E. Meshaka. 1990. Reproductive phenophases and clutch characteristics of selected Arkansas amphibians. Proceedings of the Arkansas Academy of Science. 44:107–113.
AUTHOR: Walter H. Smith – University of Alabama, Alabama Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation