Northern Dusky Salamander
Desmognathus fuscus

Common Name:

Northern Dusky Salamander

Scientific Name:

Desmognathus fuscus fuscus



desmos is Greek for  "ligament",  gnathos is Greek for "jaw"  - This refers to the bundle of ligaments holding the jaw.


fuscus is Latin for "dusky".

Average Length:

2.5 - 4.5 in. (6.4 - 11.5 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

Record length:

5.6 in. (14.1 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The back is yellowish-brown to nearly black, often without a dorsal band. If the dorsal band is present then it has irregular edges or is limited on either side by dark-edged simicircular or worm-like markings. The sides are usually without a series of small light dots. There are usually 14 costal grooves and about 4 intercostal folds between the toes of the appressed limbs *867*. The average length is 4.5 inches *994*.

REPRODUCTION: In courtship the male applies the snout, cheeks, and mental gland to the snout of the female, who usually responds by picking up a sperm- atophore. The eggs are deposited in small compact clusters of 12-26, and cling to one another by extensions of the outer envelope. The eggs are found in June, July, and August, and are attended by the female. The individual eggs are about 3 mm in diameter and have 3 envelopes, the first of clear jelly and fairly thick, the second thin, and the outer thin, tough, and elastic and with a total diameter of about 4.5 mm *867*. 75% of the deposited eggs hatch, although the females commonly abandon the nests when disturbed prior to ovi- positing. Once the eggs are deposited, they rarely leave before the eggs hatch, even when disturbed repeatedly. The attendant females maintain physical contact with the eggs and larvae *936*. The incubation period is 8 weeks *993*. Courtship and spermatophore deposition occur in September, October, April, and May; hatching is in August and September *10812*.

BEHAVIOR: They exhibit a home range, which can be shifted in periods of en- vironmental stress and the average home range is 48.4 square miles *860*. The adult frequents the margins of the streams and springs, leaf-filled trickles, springy banks where the soil is constantly moist, and often to beds of prac- tically dry streams in deep ravines. This species occasionally enters the water but is essentially terrestrial. The nests are made beneath logs, stones, or back in the vicinity of water *867*. The eggs are deposited under terres- trial conditions usually under rocks close to streams *993,959*. The larvae spend the first few days of life on moist earth and then go to shallow running water where they remain for nearly a year after which they come out of the water to live the terrestrial adult life *994*. Although females commonly abandon the nests when disturbed prior to ovipositing, once the eggs are deposited, they rarely leave before the eggs hatch, even when disturbed repeatedly. The attendent females maintain physical contact with the eggs and larvae. The hatchling larvae cluster on the females back which probably decreases dessication of the clutch *936*. Homing behavior, food finding, sexual recognition, and courtship primarily controlled by olfaction *2291*.

Origin: This species is native *883*.

References for Life History

  • 860 - Barbour, R.W., J.W. Hardin, J.P. Schafer, M.J. Harvey, 1969, Home range, movements, and activity of the dusky salamander, Desmognathus fuscus, Copeia, Vol. 1969, pg. 293-297
  • 867 - Bishop, S.C., 1947, Handbook of Salamanders, 555 pgs., Comstock Publ. Co., Ithaca, N.Y
  • 882 - Conant, R., 1958, A field guide to reptiles and amphibians of the United States and Canada east of the 100th Meridian, 366 pgs., Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA
  • 883 - Conant, R., 1975, A field guide to reptiles and amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, 429 pgs., Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, MA
  • 936 - Juterbock, J.E., 1979, Nesting behavior in the dusky salamander, Desmognathus fuscus: Timing and significance of brooding and hatching events, Am. Zool., Vol. 19, pg. 935
  • 959 - Orr, L.P., Maple, W.T., 1978, Competition avoidance mechanisms in salamander larvae of the genus Desmognathus, Copeia, Vol. 1978, pg. 679-685
  • 993 - Wilder, I.W., 1917, On the breeding habits of Desmognathus fusca, Biol. Bull., Vol. 32, pg. 13-20
  • 994 - Wilder, I.W., 1913, The life history of Desmognathus fusca, Biol. Bull., Vol. 24, pg. 251-342
  • 2291 - Barthalmus, G.T., E.D. Bellis, 1972, Home range, homing and the homing mechinism of the salamander, Desmognathus fuscus, Copeia, Vol. 4, pg. 639-642
  • 10812 - Organ, J.A., 1990, Salamander Survey Section One 1990, Prepared for the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, Jefferson National Forest, 40 pgs., Dept. of Bio. of the City College of New York, New York


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