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Gulf Coast Mud Salamander
Photo Credit: Jim Godwin
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Pseudotriton montanus flavissimus
OTHER NAMES: Along with other aquatic salamanders, this species is commonly called “spring lizard” by many, due to its association with spring-fed pools.
DESCRIPTION: In Alabama, this species has a salmon to reddish-brown color with small dark spots; the underside is lighter and unmarked. Coloration darkens with age and size, obscuring the spots. It is a small and slender form of the Mud Salamander, reaching a maximum length of 12 cm. This species is often confused with the Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber), as these species look similar and co-exist throughout much of their ranges. However, Mud Salamanders generally differ in having fewer spots, a blunter snout, and brown irises. Larval Mud Salamanders tend to have much “bushier” gills than larval Red Salamanders.
DISTRIBUTION: Mud Salamanders occur from New Jersey south to northern Florida; west along the Coastal Plains to Louisiana; also in parts of southern Ohio, West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky and Tennessee. It does not occur in high elevations of Appalachia. In Alabama, the distribution is unclear. Most records are from east of the Coosa River and north of the Fall Line, but the Mud Salamander probably occurs throughout much of the south. Recently, a disjunct population was discovered in Bibb County, suggesting potential occurrence throughout western Alabama as well.
HABITAT: Throughout its range, this species is true to its name, occupying lowland muddy habitats often associated with spring-fed and oxbow pools, swampy sloughs, and ponds. In Alabama, most individuals have been found beneath leaf-litter or logs in low floodplain areas. This species is highly fossorial, occupying tunnel systems in the vicinity of these wetland habitats. Juveniles (larvae) live in slow-moving springs, seepages, or floodplain ponds.
FEEDING HABITS: The diet of these salamanders is largely unknown. Larvae eat aquatic invertebrates and other salamander larvae, while adults may eat smaller salamanders (e.g., Two-Lined Salamanders [Eurycea spp.]).
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: The ecology of this species is poorly understood in Alabama. Throughout their range, Mud Salamander females probably lay eggs in underground sites near springs and seeps in the late fall/early winter. Few nests have been found. Eastern Mud Salamander (Pseudotriton montanus montanus) clutches range from 77 to 192 eggs; larger females lay more eggs. The eggs hatch in winter.
After hatching, individuals have an aquatic larval period of 15 - 19 months. Larvae live within the leaf-litter of their aquatic habitats, breathing through gills. Often these pools will dry up during warm summer months; larvae presumably recede to underground cavities when this occurs. Upon reaching a suitable size (7 – 9 cm total length), larvae stop feeding, absorb their gills, and metamorphose to the adult form. Mud Salamander larvae grow more quickly than Red Salamander larvae.
Adults are known to be sexually dimorphic: females tend to be larger than males. Adults apparently breed in late summer and fall. They are known to be eaten by garter snakes (Thamnophis spp.) and water snakes (Nerodia spp.).
Bruce, R.C. 1974. Larval Development of the Salamanders Pseudotriton montanus and P. ruber. American Midland Naturalist 92: 173-190.
Mount, R. 1975. The Reptiles & Amphibians of Alabama. Auburn Printing Co., Auburn, AL.
Petranka, J.W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press.
AUTHOR: Brian P. Folt, Ph.D. Student, Auburn University