by Crystal Cockman
November 1, 2017
I was walking on a friend’s property the other day and we were following a stream through the woods and came to an area he called the “drip spring.” This was an area that was wet even though we haven’t had a lot of rain. Here we found a salamander, but didn’t catch it so we didn’t get a chance to identify it. However it got me thinking about a category of salamanders known as stream salamanders.
One of the unique characteristics of stream salamanders is that they are able to withstand small fish. Most other salamanders inhabit ephemeral pools where water dries out over the summer and so fish cannot live in them. Fish are a predator of salamanders, especially larvae. For stream salamanders, the larvae and the adults are hiding under rocks, and it is hard to catch them, so they can hide from fish. Most lay their eggs underneath rocks and many of them guard their eggs. Most egg maturing happens in spring-time when the water gets warmer, and the eggs hatch into larvae. As adults, they become more terrestrial but also still hide under rocks in the water.
One of the more common species of stream salamander found in our area is the Northern Dusky salamander. There is taxonomic work going on right now that is splitting dusky salamanders into a lot of different species. Currently there are Northern Dusky, Spotted Dusky, and Southern Dusky salamanders. The Spotted Dusky is found in the mountains of extreme southwestern North Carolina. The Southern Dusky is found more in the coastal plain.
The Southern two-lined salamander is usually the most abundant salamander found in our Piedmont streams. They are more resistant to sediment so are found in streams with less than pristine water quality. Three-lined salamanders are sensitive to water quality. You typically find them where you have more than a 200-foot area of forest on the edge of streams.
We might have dwarf salamanders in our area, as well. They can look just like a two-lined salamander, however they have four toes on the front and hind limbs, whereas most salamanders in the family Plethodontidae have five toes on the back limbs. There are also Chamberlain’s dwarf salamanders, and they are found in the lower Piedmont of NC but more southeast of this region. Their habitats don’t generally overlap, but to tell the two apart, Chamberlain’s dwarf salamanders are generally slightly smaller as adults and have a bright yellow underside while dwarf salamanders have a pigmented underside with dark brown flecks.
Red salamanders you will find in streams. Although red salamanders may stray far from water, they are most commonly found in and around aquatic habitats such as headwater streams, seepages, and some wetland areas. I’ve seen a red salamander under a log on The LandTrust for Central NC’s Low Water Bridge Preserve, so they do hide under rocks, logs and other cover objects on the forest floor. Mud salamanders you will also find in streams, but they are more found along springs and areas with mud. They are found on edge of a stream, in lowland seeps.
Anson and Richmond Counties have two-toed amphiumas, a species that lives more in the coastal plain. They don’t look like a typical salamander, as they are larger and instead have long cylindrical bodies with very small eyes and limbs. As their name indicates, each leg has just two toes. They prefer streams with debris and detritus, but can also be found in clear streams.
These are just a few of the salamanders you may encounter in streams in our region. It’s a favorite pastime of mine to flip rocks and see what I can find when walking through the woods and creeks. You may not be able to catch them, but perhaps you will get a good enough look to identify what salamanders you see on your own property.