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NATURAL HISTORY

SISKIYOU MOUNTAINS SALAMANDER } Plethodon stormi
SCOTT BAR SALAMANDER } Plethodon asupaki
FAMILY: Plethodontidae

DESCRIPTION: These are long-bodied, short-limbed terrestrial salamanders with broad, short heads. They may reach four to six inches in length. Adult Siskiyou Mountains salamanders are pink tan or pink gray to light brown, with a sprinkling of white flecks or small patches. Adult Scott Bar salamanders are chocolate brown with black pigmentation. Each has a dorsal stripe, which extends from the head to the tail tip.

HABITAT: The salamanders prefer a cool and stable microclimate because they breathe through their skin. Their prime habitat is in stabilized talus in old-growth stands. They are associated with rocky, forested areas, especially areas covered with thick moss.

RANGE: The Siskiyou Mountains salamander occupies a known range of roughly 203,000 hectares in three counties in extreme southwestern Oregon and northwestern California. The Scott Bar salamander is found in a very small area of the Siskiyou Mountains in extreme northern Siskiyou County near the confluence of the Klamath and Scott rivers, only a few miles east of the range of the Siskiyou Mountains salamander.

MIGRATION: These salamanders do not migrate.

BREEDING: Female salamanders lay eggs every other year, beginning at five years old. Females brood their embryos throughout the summer, mate during the winter, and lay eggs in the spring. Usually about nine hatch per clutch in the fall. This low reproductive rate makes the Siskiyou Mountains salamanders particularly vulnerable; events that reduce breeding success can place the species at additional risk of extinction.

LIFE CYCLE: Siskiyou Mountains salamanders are fully terrestrial salamanders that have completely abandoned the aquatic larval stage. They deposit their eggs in moist, protected subterranean sites, such as cracks in rock rubble or talus slopes. When juvenile salamanders hatch, they are already metamorphosed into fully terrestrial salamanders.

FEEDING: Siskiyou Mountains salamanders are sit-and-wait predators, concealing themselves under ground debris on damp soil while they search for food (usually spiders, mites, ants, collembolans, beetles, and other invertebrates). Salamanders are an important component of the food web in many forest ecosystems because they exploit prey too small and inaccessible to be used by most birds and mammals, and subsequently convert these prey into biomass that is available to larger vertebrates.

THREATS: Habitat loss is the principle threat to the Siskiyou Mountains salamander. Logging renders habitat unsuitable, resulting in sharp population declines or local extirpation. Road building, mining, recreation, and dam construction have also contributed. The salamanders evolved in an environment with frequent fires, but 50 years of fire suppression has placed the species at risk from large and destructive fires. Their habitat is in part determined by regional climate, so global warming is an additional threat to their continued existence, which already exists in patchy populations.

POPULATION TREND: The populations of these salamanders are declining.

 

Photo © Tim Burkhardt