Saturday, February 6, 2016

Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum)

The four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) is listed as a species of special concern in North Carolina. Although some populations have been found in the Coastal Plain and Mountains, the four-toed salamander predominantly occurs in the Piedmont where it prefers marshes, swamps and ephemeral ponds surrounded by forest.

After mating in the fall, some female four-toed salamanders cooperate with each other during the spring nesting season, preferring to lay eggs together on moss-covered logs and roots draped over still water. This communal nest allows one female to leave for a short period, while the other stays behind to tend to the eggs. While it may look like the females are guarding the eggs from predators, researchers have suggested that the females actually protect the eggs from being destroyed by fungus. Reid Harris and Douglas Gill have suggested that female four-toed salamanders may actually eat eggs on which fungus is detected. 

Four-toed salamander by J. D. Willson (

After one and half to two months of protection, in the warmth of early summer, the larvae finally emerge from the eggs and drop into the still water where they transform into small adults in about 6 weeks. It will take at least one and half more years for the young four-toed salamanders to reach sexual maturity. 

As adults, the four-toed salamander ranged from two to 3.5 inches. The back tends to be a mottled reddish brown with small black spots, with the tail getting progressively redder. The tail, when grabbed, can be disconnected and will continue to writher and wiggle to lure predators away from the fleeing salamander. The belly of the four-toed salamander is white with black spots, and as its name suggest, the four-toed salamander only has four toes on each hind foot. Adults can typically be found under rocks and leaf litter. 

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