A small, delicate salamander with a thick, round tail and four toes on both fore- and hind limbs. The snout is short and blunt. General color is yellowish tan to brown on the back with many faint, irregular black posts. Sides are grayish brown with black stippling, and the belly is pure white with numerous large, irregular black spots. The tail is distinctly constricted near its base. There are 12 to 14 costal grooves (vertical grooves on the sides of the body).
Species of Conservation Concern
Plethodontidae (lungless salamanders) in the order Caudata (salamanders)
Adult length: 2–3¼ inches.
Where To Find
Occurs in the eastern half of the Missouri Ozarks, including the St. Francois Mountains. A single, isolated population found in Lincoln County is the only population known north of the Missouri River.
In Missouri, this species lives among mosses along heavily forested headwater streams and spring-fed creeks associated with sandstone or igneous bedrock, and also in and near natural sinkhole ponds. Away from egg-laying sites, they live under rotten logs, in leaf litter, or under rocks in seepage areas. Elsewhere in its range, this species is associated with sphagnum (peat) bogs. If captured, a four-toed salamander easily breaks off its tail and escapes.
Foods include a variety of small arthropods and mollusks.
This species was listed as rare in Missouri for many years because of few locality records and because this species is recognized as a glacial relict (populations moved southward with glaciers, then persisted in mostly isolated, suitably cool locations after the glaciers retreated). Because a number of new locations have been discovered, this species is now listed as “apparently secure.” It remains on Missouri’s list of Species of Conservation Concern.
Breeding occurs in autumn. Soon after ending their winter dormancy, usually in the first weeks of April, females move to a creek, ephemeral pool, or sinkhole pond and lay about 30 eggs in a protected pocket of moss overhanging water. They remain with the eggs and eat any that spoil. They sometimes nest communally. Newly hatched larvae enter the water and after 3–6 weeks transform into a juvenile stage, which is terrestrial. It may be more than 2 years before they become sexually mature adults.
Amphibians require water, where they mate, lay eggs, and develop into maturity. They are very sensitive to water quality, and human-caused water pollution, siltation, and other degradation, plus habitat destruction and fragmentation, threaten their survival.
This is one of several Missouri salamanders that live in caves, seeps, or spring-fed creeks. Taking care of our cave and spring ecosystems and protecting groundwater quality is critical for them.
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About Reptiles and Amphibians in Missouri
Missouri’s herptiles comprise 43 amphibians and 75 reptiles. Amphibians, including salamanders, toads, and frogs, are vertebrate animals that spend at least part of their life cycle in water. They usually have moist skin, lack scales or claws, and are ectothermal (cold-blooded), so they do not produce their own body heat the way birds and mammals do. Reptiles, including turtles, lizards, and snakes, are also vertebrates, and most are ectothermal, but unlike amphibians, reptiles have dry skin with scales, the ones with legs have claws, and they do not have to live part of their lives in water.