Cow Knob Salamander
Plethodon punctatus

Common Name:

Cow Knob Salamander

Scientific Name:

Plethodon punctatus



plethore is Greek meaning "fullness or full of",  odon is Greek for "teeth". Referring to  the number of paravomerine and vomerine teeth.


punctatus is Latin for "spotted".

Average Length:

3.9 - 6.2 in. (10 - 15.7 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

Record length:

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier II - Very High Conservation Need - Has a high risk of extinction or extirpation. Populations of these species are at very low levels, facing real threat(s), or occur within a very limited distribution. Immediate management is needed for stabilization and recovery.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This is a medium-sized salamander with a maximum SVL of 81 mm and a maximum total length of 171 mm (n=140). The tail makes up approximately 50% of the total length. This species is slender with relatively thin legs. The snout is rounded to slightly blunt. The head width is greatest at the corner of the mouth. Slightly protuberant eyes are characteristic in living individuals. The legs are slender and the feet and hands are moderately webbed. There are 18-19 trunk vertebrae. There are typically 1.5-2.5 costal folds between the adpressed limbs *9286*. This species is dark gray or brownish with a row of white or yellow spots along the side of the body. There is a tendency to have numerous white or yellowish-white spots on the back. The belly is uniformly gray and the underside of the throat is pinkish. There are usually 17-18 costal grooves *889*. This species has a length from 100-157 mm *1014*. The dorsal markings may be profuse to nearly absent and extend onto the sides. Lateral spots are larger and more concentrated than dorsal spots. These spots extend forward onto the cheeks and occasionally the upper jaw; backward slightly onto the tail; and ventrally scarcely onto the venter. The legs are spotted dorsally and ventrally. Cream to pink dominates the throat and extends onto the chest where it darkens, blending into the mostly gray venter. The venter is sometimes spotted, sparsely, with cream spotting. Much of the pattern is retained in preservative with the exception of some dorsal spotting. Coloration in preservative is dark brown to dark gray with the spotting remaining cream-colored. Sexual dimorphism is not apparent except during the breeding season when males have a prominent mental gland. Gravid females are noticeably more rotund than males and nongravid females *9286*.

REPRODUCTION: Enlarged mental glands in spring captured males suggest that mating occurs in the winter or spring. Ovarian clutch size for two gravid females is thirteen *9286*. Fertilization is internal and development is direct *1014*. The young mature in 3 years *1014*. Behavior: This species is terrestrial and lives under rocks, logs, and other surface debris. Microhabitat must be moist and cool. It retreats underground with hot or dry weather and inhabits woodlands *889*. By day, it hides under rocks, logs, or in burrows. It usually forages at night *1014* and is primarily nocturnal or crepuscular *889*. They emerge from hibernation in April. They are abundant in the summer and retreat to deep burrows by late October *1014*. They occur at elevations above 810 meters *1014*. This species may be found foraging nocturnally on the surface during cool to warm weather when wet or humid and the moon is not bright. Surface activity usually begins in April and ends by late June when they go underground in dry years. Surface activity is observed in the fall with the return of cool moist weather. They are carnivorous, consuming virtually anything they can capture. Hymenoptera and Collembola were present in the highest numbers while the largest percentages of gut volume were larvae, Chilopoda, Diplopods, Hymenoptera, Oligochaeta, and Coleoptera.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: Maturity is reached in three years. Of 132 individuals examined, >90% were mature which suggest that this species has a low annual recruitment *9286*.

References for Life History

  • 889 - Dodd, C.K., Jr., Linzey, D.W. (Ed.), 1979, Cow Knob salamander, Proc. Symp. on Endangered and Threatened Plants and Animals of Virginia, pg. 387-388, 665 pgs., Ext. Div., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ., Blacksburg
  • 1014 - Martof, B.S., Palmer, W.M., Bailey, J.R., Harrison, III J.R., 1980, Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, 264 pgs., UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 9286 - Terwilliger, K.T., 1991, Virginia's endangered species: Proceedings of a symposium. Coordinated by the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries, Nongame and Endangered Species Program, 672 pp. pgs., McDonald and Woodward Publ. Comp., Blacksburg, VA


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Augusta County
Rockingham County
Shenandoah County
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