occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)) Ridges of the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province, including Brumley, Clinch, Walker, and Potts mountains of southwestern Virginia; Cumberland Mountains and Plateau of southeastern Kentucky, and the Allegheny Mountains and Plateau of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York through the Adirondack Mountains to southern Quebec and southern Ontario (recently confirmed in the latter province; K. Vlasman, pers. comm., 2005, based on information from David Green); populations in the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee have not been studied electrophoretically and may or may not represent this species (Tilley and Mahoney 1996). Elevational range at least 168-1,280 m (based on data in Tilley and Mahoney 1996).
This species, as clarified by the molecular genetic study of Tilley and Mahoney (see comment), is distributed in the "Ridges of the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province, including Brumley, Clinch, Walker, and Potts Mountains of southwestern Virginia; the Cumberland Mountains and Plateau of southeastern Kentucky; and the Allegheny Mountains and Plateau of West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York through the Adirondack Mountains to southern Quebec." In a subsequent study, Anderson & Tilley (2003) extended the range of this species into the northern Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee because populations there were found to be genetically identical to more northerly populations in New York, West Virginia and Kentucky. In the Cumberland, D. ochrophaeus contacts another ecologically similar but genetically distinctive species, D. abditus with which it hybridizes over a narrow zone.
Populations that occur outside of this area that were once considered to be this species, specifically those that occur in the Southern Appalachian Highlands from Virginia through the Tennessee and North Carolina Highlands, the southern Blue Ridge, northern Georgia and northeastern Alabama are now variously assigned to other taxa (see D. orestes, D. carolinensis, D. ocoee).
- Anderson, J. & S. G. Tilley. 2003. A new species of Desmognathus from the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. Herpetological Monographs 17:75-110
- Tilley, S. G. & M. J. Mahoney. 1996. Patterns of genetic differentiation in salamanders of the Desmognathus ochrophaeus complex (Amphibia: Plethodontidae). Herp. Monogr. 10:1-42.
Size: 7-10 cm
Desmognathus ochrophaeus have moderately long, well-developed legs and come in a variety of colors, markings, and body proportions. The salamanders of this species have long slender bodies and tapered tails. The eyelids fit under a fold of skin behind the eyes. The teeth are pointed and sharp. Most adults are plainly colored but others are brightly colored. In many, a light line extends from the eye to the bottom of the jaw. Both adults and juveniles have a straight light-colored stripe down the back and tail. This stripe can be yellow, orange, olive, gray, brown or red, and is flanked by darker pigmentation that is mottled and fade into the lightly pigmented belly. The dorsal stripe is sometimes marked by rows of dark chevron-like spots. As adults age, the central spots become darker, making these chevrons harder to notice. The sides of the tail are black and there is a lighter grayish brown dorsal band on their bodies.
In general, the males and females of this species resemble one another. However males are 12% larger than females, have a darker body and a more curved jaw margin than females. Females have vomerine teeth, whereas males lose them when they reach about 65-75 mm in length.
Juvenile Desmognathus ochrophaeus are dorsally spotted. They have a yellow dorsal band bordered by a dark brown stripe that stretches over the tail. The top of their heads are dark and their bellies are light.
The larvae of these salamanders are about 17 mm long. They have a light stripe extending from their eyes to their tail, flanked by a darker line of pigmentation. Upon hatching they are equipped with short white gills that are retained for a short while. (Bishop 1943; Amphibians of Canada 2000; The Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information Service 2001).
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average mass: 0.6 g.
Length: 11 cm
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: At lower elevations and in winter usually concentrates near seepage areas, springs, and small streams; may range into adjacent wooded areas in wet weather. More terrestrial at higher elevations, characteristic inhabitant of floor of spruce-fir forests. Often abundant on wet rock faces. Eggs are laid in wet rock crevices or under rocks, logs, or moss in seepage areas or near small streams.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
The larvae and adults of this species of salamanders are carnivores. After hatching the aquatic larvae feed on small aquatic arthropods and their larvae, including spiders, flies, and mosquitoes. The adult salamanders feed on adult and immature terrestrial arthropods, terrestrial gastropods, aquatic insects and aquatic snails. Some of the animals eaten include: earthworms, spiders, dragonflies, beetles, mites, and millipedes. Desmognathus ochrophaeus climbs trees and shrubs while foraging, and uses its keen vision to ambush prey rather than actively hunting it down. This may reduce the risk of injury (Amphibians of Canada 2000).
Comments: Eats a variety of small terrestrial invertebrates. Worms, beetles, and fly larvae are important foods.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Comments: Represented by many and/or large occurrences throughout the range.
100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals
Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but likely exceeds 100,000.
Life History and Behavior
Comments: Active at all seasons in mild weather in south. Annual activity season (spring-fall) longer for populations in seepage areas. Most active at night but diurnal activity also is common.
Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis
Status: captivity: 5.3 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Salamanders of this species breed during spring and fall. Usually, during the months of April, September, and October, courtship and spermatophore deposition take place. Fertilization for Desmognathus ochrophaeus is internal. The male deposits sperm packets (spermatophores) on the ground, which the female takes into her vent. The female will store the sperm from fall and spring inseminations until late spring or summer. The sperm can be stored within her body from 1-2 years. After a certain period the ova are fertilized and gestate for about 3 months, before she lays her eggs. The female will then lay 3-27 eggs either singly, in pairs, or in clusters in a small cavity, which she hollows out in soil under moss, or in moss above shallow running water. A female will remain in her nesting cavity for a period from 52-69 days, attending her eggs with antipredator and antipathogenic behaviors. During this time she will rarely forage for food. Interestingly, Desmognathus ochrophaeus females will accept eggs belonging to another female and will attend to the new clutch and take care of it as if it were her own. Thus, in a sense, she becomes a foster parent! Scent is reported to be important in recognition of a clutch. Disturbed females may eat their eggs. Also, the presence of dead eggs in a clutch may trigger a female to eat her eggs.
The larvae hatch about 3 months after being deposited. Eggs hatch in both late summer from clutches brooded during summer, and early spring from clutches brooded during the winter. Hatchling larvae have gills, and quickly disperse to nearby water. Until they do, their mother continues to protect her brood. Most D. ochrophaeus larvae have metamorphosed into the adult form after a few weeks, but a few go more quickly (probably nourished by especially large and rich yolk in their egg) or take much longer, up to 8 months (Bishop 1943; Hairston 1987, Virginia Fish and Wildlife Information Service 2002).
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
Average number of offspring: 16.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male: 1280 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female: 1280 days.
Lays up to about 30 eggs in spring, summer, or fall. Female remains with eggs until hatching. Larvae hatch summer to fall, metamorphose in 2-8 months.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Desmognathus ochrophaeus
Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.
Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Desmognathus ochrophaeus
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 7
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Large range in eastern North America; often abundant; many stable populations; no major threats.
Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable
Environmental Specificity: Narrow to moderate.
Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 30%
Comments: Likely stable to slightly declining, but no data are available.
Global Long Term Trend: Increase of 10-25% to decline of 30%
Comments: Probably relatively stable in extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, and population size.
Comments: No major threats of widespread significance.
Management Requirements: Uncut buffer zones should be maintained along upland streams.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Desmognathus ochrophaeus plays a useful role in research and science. Biologists use the amphibian's eggs to study embryonic growth. The salamander also gives scientists a glimpse into metamorphosis and life cycles involving complex morphological changes. This helps them study problems in genetics, developmental biology, and tissue transplantation. Another use for Desmognathus ochrophaeus' eggs is in the field of toxicology. Scientists have used its eggs to assess the biotic effects of many substances that are significant to environmental and human health. (Cohen 1995).
Allegheny Mountain dusky salamander
The Allegheny Mountain dusky salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus) is a species in the Plethodontidae (lungless salamander) family. It is found in Canada and the United States. Its natural habitats are temperate forests, rivers, intermittent rivers, freshwater springs, and rocky areas.
D. ochrophaeus is a medium-sized salamander that can grow to about 10 cm in length. Adults are brownish and can have a widely variable coloration pattern. Usually, it has a light stripe down the back, with a row of dark spots on the centre and flanked by dark pigments. As in all members of the genus, the hind legs are larger and stouter than the front legs. This species belongs to the "lungless salamander" family (Plethodontidae), and adults must keep their skin moist to breathe. It is a somewhat terrestrial salamander that can be found under stones, logs, and bark near springs, streams and other areas where the ground is saturated with water.
Ontario's Endangered Species Act, 2007 protects D. ochrophaeus from being killed, harmed, or possessed. Salamanders are protected on Niagara Parks Commission property under the Niagara Parks Act, which makes it illegal to hunt, trap, or molest any animal without a government permit. A Dusky Salamander Recovery Team has been established to develop a strategy for the recovery of this species and the related Northern dusky salamander (D. fuscus).
- Hammerson, G. 2004. Desmognathus ochrophaeus. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 23 July 2007.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Based on patterns of allozyme variation, Tilley and Mahoney (1996) split Desmognathus ochrophaeus into four species: D. ochrophaeus, D. carolinensis, D. ocoee, and D. orestes.