The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia
Tuesday, 19 December 2023 15:56

Meet the salamanders making the South a biodiversity hotspot

Written by Southern Environmental Law Center

Skip to main codownload-2.jpg An eastern newt in its juvenile stage in Blacksburg, Virginia. Courtesy SELC.

Salamanders are under siege in a changing world

Salamanders are extraordinary creatures. Some of these astonishing amphibians boast vibrant colors and patterns while two-thirds of all species are lungless and able to breathe through their skin. All salamanders have the remarkable ability to regrow limbs, tails, and even parts of their heart and brain, a rare ability in the animal kingdom. 

More salamander species live in the Appalachians than anywhere else in the world. Fifty-four species of salamander call Virginia home.

Roughly 20 percent of the world’s salamander species can be found in the South

Unfortunately, the impacts of climate change, habitat loss and pollution pose a real danger to these sensitive creatures. Increased temperatures, changing humidity levels, wildfires and droughts wreak havoc on salamanders, which are impacted by even small changes in habitat conditions and are often specialized to small native ranges. 

Southern Environmental Law Center’s work addressing climate change, fighting for clean water, and conservation efforts help protect all kinds of salamanders in the South. To celebrate the Endangered Species Act’s 50th anniversary, they are highlighting some of the endangered and threatened salamanders of our region.

Neuse River waterdog 


The Neuse River waterdog, also known as the Carolina mudpuppy, can only be found in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River systems in North Carolina. This rare aquatic salamander spends its entire life underwater, gathering oxygen through external gills on the side of its neck. The Neuse River waterdog received protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2021.

Shenandoah salamander


This rare species can only be found on the three highest mountains in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. The Shenandoah salamander lives on land its whole life, and like two-thirds of all salamanders, has no lungs and absorbs oxygen through its skin. In 1982 the Fish and Wildlife Service classified this salamander as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. 

Reticulated and frosted flatwoods salamanders 


These beautiful salamanders make their homes in flatwoods, Longleaf pine savannah ecosystems that require naturally occurring wildfires. Habitat loss has caused the populations of flatwoods salamanders to dwindle. Both species exist in isolated tracts in the Florida panhandle and South Georgia, but the reticulated species also has a very small population in coastal South Carolina.

Red Hills salamander


The state amphibian of Alabama, the Red Hills salamander is secretive and rather large for a lungless species, growing up to 10 inches. Residing in only six counties in the Red Hills region of south-central Alabama, this salamander is one of two endangered species in Alabama and received federal protections in 1977.  

Black Warrior waterdog


Another waterdog species, the Black Warrior, spends its entire life underwater using external gills to breath. Found only in the upper Black Warrior River Basin, little is known about this rare species that was declared endangered in 2018. 

Salamanders may be small, but the role they play in our natural systems is complex. As we celebrate the Endangered Species Act’s 50th anniversary, let’s rally to protect these incredible creatures from the threats they face in our changing world. 

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Last modified on Wednesday, 20 December 2023 00:45