NATURAL HISTORY

BARTON SPRINGS SALAMANDER } Eurycea sosorum
FAMILY: Plethodontidae

The specific name sosorum comes from the acronym used for the Austin environmental group Save Our Springs (SOS) Alliance. Eurycea has no known origin but is thought to be mythological in nature.

DESCRIPTION: The Barton Springs salamander is small, with a slender body of up to 2.5 inches in length that varies in color from pale purplish brown to yellowish cream. The salamander has a creamy, translucent appearance, a flattened snout, elongated limbs, small eyes, a relatively short tail with a yellow-orange stripe, and three pairs of bright-red external gills on its neck.

HABITAT: Barton Springs salamanders live in clean, flowing water with a consistent 70-degree temperature in depths between 0.33 and 16.4 feet. They are usually discovered around the main Barton Spring outflows, hidden within a one- to three-inch-deep zone of gravel and small rocks that is clear of fine silt and decomposed organic debris.

RANGE: The only known surface habitats of the Barton Springs salamander are in the Barton Springs Pool, Eliza Springs, Sunken Garden Springs, and Upper Barton Springs, all of which are located in Zilker Park in Austin, Texas.

MIGRATION: The extent to which the Barton Springs salamander migrates locally between its four spring sites is currently under study.

BREEDING: Few details about the salamander’s breeding habits are available, but females are known to carry their small, white, iridescent eggs for a year before depositing them in string-like clusters. Evidence suggests that breeding and hatching takes place all year and eggs are deposited in the Edwards Aquifer, which feeds the pools in which the salamanders live.

LIFE CYCLE: The Barton Springs salamander is permanently aquatic and neotenic, meaning that it remains in the water throughout its life and does not metamorphose into a terrestrial form.

FEEDING: The salamander eats amphipods — mainly the small invertebrate Hyalla azteca — as well as snails, crustaceans, black worms, leeches, and bug larvae.

THREATS: The main threat to the Barton Springs salamander is degradation of the quality and quantity of Barton Springs water due to urban development and pesticide use. The salamander is also affected by increased UVB radiation, acid rain, and disease.

POPULATION TREND: The number of Barton Springs salamanders dropped dramatically from the 1970s, when hundreds of salamanders were seen, to 1992, when only a handful could be located. During recent surveys, 274 salamanders were observed in Barton Springs’ four hydrologically connected pools.

 

Photo by Wyman Meinzer/USGS