Shenandoah Salamander
Plethodon shenandoah

Common Name:

Shenandoah Salamander

Scientific Name:

Plethodon shenandoah



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


shenandoah refers to the Shenandoah Mountains.

Average Length:

3 - 4.3  (7.5 - 11 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

Record length:

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier I - Critical Conservation Need - Faces an extremely high risk of extinction or extirpation. Populations of these species are at critically low levels, facing immediate threat(s), or occur within an extremely limited range. Intense and immediate management action is needed.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This species is elongate and slender, reaching a length of 12 cm. There are 2 color phases, striped and unstriped. The striped phase is characterized by a narrow red stripe down the back, whereas the unstriped phase is uniformly dark. Reduced brassy pigmentation may be present on the dorsum of the unstriped phase. Lateral and belly pigmentation are black, and normally there are 18 costal grooves. The males have a crescent-shaped mental hedonic gland-cluster *919,920,929,930,932,9286*. White spots occur along the sides and the throat is light, but the venter is usually dark with variable amounts of white or yellow mottling *9286*.

REPRODUCTION: Fertilization is internal with direct development. The eggs are probably deposited in a moist sheltered nest and are attended by the female, with hatching occuring in the late summer or early fall *932,9286*. Hybridization with Plethodon cinereus has been documented in one population *10811*.

BEHAVIOR: A type of interaction exists between this species and P. cinereus, This interaction, whether aggressive or passive, enables at least one of the species to affect the movements of the other *932*. P. cinereus does not demonstrate a clear dominance because P. shenandoah is competitively superior on Hawksbill Mountain. Possibly the result is related to the greater proportional size of P. shenandoah, which could be important if aggressive interactions occur *931*. P. cinereus is evidently the better competitor for food and thus limits the distribution of P. shenandoah to an area where, because of xeric conditions, P. cinereus is excluded *929*. P. shenandoah has a wide ecological tolerances, but is limited to only its realized range due to competition with P. cinereus. This competition is strongest both between salamanders of the same size and during times of food scarcity that may occur as a result of lower rainfall *963*. There are suggestions that aggressive superiority and foraging superiority are associated with the competition between P. cinereus and P. shenandoah. Interference competition occurs both within and between the two species. Interference may be involved in competition for space, rather than food *999*. P. cinereus completely excludes P. shenandoah from areas of deep soil, forcing the latter into relict populations in suboptimal talus habitats *929,930,931*. Due to the competition with P. cinereus, P. sheanadoah has a high assimilation efficiency because it has to become adapted to life in low prey environments *931*. The competitive difference between P. cinereus and P. shenandoah lies not in physiological differences, but in differences in agonistic behavior *980,935*. The total niche breadth is lower when P. cinereus and P. shenandoah are cohabiting than when either species is alone, which implies that increased species packing decreases total utilization of space in burrows. This apparently is a result of the polarized spacing of the 2 species in the burrows, with P. shenandoah cocentrated in the topsoil and P. cinereus in the bottom soil. Since neither species is known to construct its own burrows, it is possible that naturally occuring burrows are a limited resource when population densities are high as they are in the soil on Hawksbill Mountain *932*. They are generally found within 80 miles of the talmus *892* and are confined to deep pockets of soil within the talus on the north and northwest faces of its 3 mountains at elevations above 3000 feet. The area is shaded and moisture is present from seeps along the bases of rock ledges. It occurs under rocks and surface debris where moisture conditions are favorable. When unfavorable conditions prevail, individuals seek shelter in burrow or crevices *892*. They forage on the ground and in rocks and logs. This species is active at night and defends its feeding terrestory.

ORIGIN: This species is endemic to Virginia and exists only in Shenandoah National Park on 3 mountains; Hawksbill, Stony Man, and The Pinnicle *919,920, 929,930,932*.

LIMITING FACTORS: It is possible that naturally occurring burrows are a limited resource when population densities are high, as they are in the soil in Hawksbill Mountain. Burrows are a vital resource as they provide shelter from dessication and predators *932*. Food is a limiting factor where P. cinereus competes with P. shenandoah *929,930,931*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: This species is associated with the north and northwest talus slopes of mountains in a mixed conifer-deciduous forest *892*.

References for Life History

  • 892 - Dodd, C.K., Jr., Linzey, D.W. (Ed.), 1979, Shenandoah salamander, Proc. Symp. on Endangered and Threatened Plants and Animals of Virginia, pg. 385-386, 665 pgs., Ext. Div., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ., Blacksburg
  • 919 - Highton, R., 1972, Distributional interactions among eastern North American salamanders of the genus Plethodon, The Distributional History of the Biota of the Southern Appalachians, Part III. Vertebrates., Monogr. 4, Vol. 12, pg. 139-188, Res. Div., Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ., Blacksburg
  • 920 - Highton, R., Washington, R.D., 1967, A new salamander of the genus Plethodon from Virginia, Copeia, Vol. 1967, Num. 3, pg. 617-626
  • 929 - Jaegar, R.G., 1970, Potential extinction through competition between two species of terrestrial salamanders, Evolution, Vol. 24, pg. 632-642
  • 930 - Jaegar, R.G., 1971, Competitive exclusion as a factor influencing the distributions of the two species of terrestrial salamanders, Ecology, Vol. 52, pg. 632-633
  • 931 - Jaeger, R.G., 1972, Food as a limited resource between two species of salamanders, Ecology, Vol. 53, pg. 535-546
  • 932 - Jaegar, R.G., 1974, Competitive exclusion: comments on survival and extinction of species, Bioscience, Vol. 24, pg. 33-39
  • 935 - Jaegar, R.G., Gergits, W.F., 1979, Inter- and intra-specific communication in salamanders through chemical signals on the substrate, Anim. Behav., Vol. 27, pg. 150-156
  • 963 - Powders, V.N., Tietjen, W.L., 1974, The comparative food habits of sympatric and allopatric salamanders, Plethodon glutinosus and Plethodon jordani in eastern Tennessee and adjacent areas, Herpetologica, Vol. 30, pg. 167-175
  • 980 - Thurow, G.R., 1976, Aggression and competition in eastern Plethodon (Amphibia, Urodela, Plethodontidae), J. Herpetol., Vol. 10, pg. 277-291
  • 999 - Wrobel, D.J., Gergits, W.F., Jaegar, R.J., 1980, An experimental study of interference competition among terrestrial salamanders, Ecology, Vol. 61, pg. 1034-1039
  • 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
  • 9425 - Service, US Fish and Wildlife, 1989, Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants: determination of threatened status for the cheat mountain salamander and endangered status for the shenandoah salamander, Federal Register, Vol. 54, Num. 159, 4 pgs.
  • 10811 - Pague C.A., J.C. Mitchell, 1987, The Status of Amphibians in Virginia, Virginia Journal of Science, Vol. 38, Num. 4, pg. 304-318
  • 11116 - Terwilliger, K., J.R. Tate, 1995, A guide to endangered and threatened species in Virginia, 220 pp. pgs., McDonald & Woodward Publ. Comp., Blacksburg, VA


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