Comprehensive DescriptionRead full entry
Pseudotriton montanus is a stout bodied, reddish-brown salamander with black spots and short limbs found in the eastern United States. Total length ranges from 75 - 195 mm in adults, and females tend to be about 20% larger than males (Bruce 1975). Eyes are brown. The body is stout, with 16 or 17 costal grooves. Limbs are short relative to body size. Tail is also short, averaging about 40% of total length. Hatchlings have a snout-vent length of 7.5 - 13 mm. Larvae are stream type. Metamorphs typically measure 35 - 44 mm snout-vent length (Petranka 1998).
The color of the dorsum in P. montanus ranges from orange-brown to crimson. The dorsum is covered with irregular, widely spaced black spots. The venter is light or pinkish orange, and may be spotted depending on subspecies. Individuals tend to darken with age, and the spots become less prominent. Juveniles are typically light brown, and develop spots as they approach metamorphosis. Some larvae in the upper Piedmont of North and South Carolina have a streaked pattern, especially on their sides (Petranka 1998).
There are currently four recognized subspecies of P. montanus: the eastern mud salamander, P. m. montanus; the midland mud salamander, P. m. diastictus; the Gulf coast mud salamander, P. m. flavissimus; and the rusty mud salamander, P. m. floridanus. P. m. montanus is large, reaching up to 21 cm total length. The venter is usually spotted. It is found along the east coast from New Jersey down to Georgia. P. m. diastictus is the most brightly colored subspecies. Adults are crimson with more sparse spotting than P. m. montanus, and no spotting on the venter. It is found west of the Appalachians, in Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. P. m. flavissimus is smaller and more slender than the more northern subspecies (P. m. diastictus and P. m. montanus), reaching a maximum total length of 12 cm. The venter is not spotted. This subspecies is found in easternmost Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and western Florida. P. m. floridanus is also small, reaching only 12 cm total length, and is more darkly colored than the other subspecies. The dorsum generally lacks spots, though they may be seen on the tail. The venter is spotted. This subspecies is found in southern Georgia and northern Florida (Petranka 1998).
Pseudotriton montanus is similar in appearance to and overlaps in range with P. ruber, the red salamander. The species can be distinguished mainly by eye color and spot patterns. Pseudotriton ruber has yellow eyes, while P. montanus has brown eyes. P. montanus has fewer dorsal spots which are widely spaced and rarely overlap, in contrast to the heavy, often overlapping spotting on individuals of P. ruber. Pseudotriton montanus also tends to have a shorter, more blunt snout than P. ruber (Petranka 1998).
The species authority for P. montanus is Baird, 1849 (Hammerson 2004).
The species epithet “montanus” means “of or pertaining to mountains” in Latin.
Pseudotriton montanus was one of the first Plethodontid salamanders found to be toxic (along with its sister species, P. ruber). Glands in the skin produce the large toxic protein pseudotritontoxin (PTTX). Toxicity appears to vary between subspecies (Brandon and Huheey 1981).