Adults are beige to pink. A cave-dweller, this species lacks gills and is partly or completely blind. The head is rather wide and flat. The tail is long, rounded and finless. There are 16–19 grooves along the side. Eyes are small, reduced and covered or partially covered by a fusion of the eyelids. The eyes may appear sunken. Larvae have gills, functional eyes, broad tail fins and more pigment, being brown to dark gray, sometimes with spots or streaking on the sides and tail.
Species of Conservation Concern
Plethodontidae (lungless salamanders) in the order Caudata (salamanders)
Length: 3–4¾ inches.
Where To Find
Wet caves of Missouri’s Ozark Plateau.
This is the only species of blind salamander in Missouri. Adults are true troglobites, living in total darkness and requiring caves with a spring or stream running through them. The delicate balance of cave ecosystems, grotto salamanders and their spring and cave habitats need to be protected from disturbance, including water and groundwater pollution.
Adults eat mainly small insects. They occur in greater abundance in caves with many bats, probably because they feed on insects attracted to the bat guano. Larvae probably eat tiny freshwater amphipods and other small aquatic invertebrates.
The survival of this species requires healthy cave ecosystems, which in turn require clean groundwater and lack of disturbance by humans. A Species of Conservation Concern.
This species breeds during the period of greatest food supply, which for them is in winter and early spring. Fertilization is internal (as with most salamanders), and the eggs are probably attached to stones in or near water in caves. The larvae are aquatic and inhabit cave streams and sometimes also springs or streams that flow out of caves or grottoes. They may take 2–3 years to transform into adults.
The smooth gracefulness of these vulnerable pink salamanders, reminds us of the overall delicacy of their cave ecosystem. It is important to be extremely careful to respect caves, their inhabitants and the archaeological artifacts they contain. “Walk softly, and leave no trace.”
In the peculiar ecosystem within a cave, grotto salamanders function as predators to insects and other small prey. Meanwhile, they and their larvae serve as prey to larger creatures, such as mammals venturing into caverns. Even their bodies, after they die, serve as nutrients for future cave life.
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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.