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Species of the Month: Mississippi Slimy Salamander

I was out at the Noxubee Wildlife refuge with my dogs, and there were slimy salamanders (the species, not the characteristic) under almost every other log I looked under. I feel that they were nominating themselves for Species of the Month. Let’s talk slimy salamanders! (The gallery below is the salamanders I found today)

You can see then rubbing themselves all over my hand in the picture above. They got their name from this sticky goo/mucus they secrete whey they are handled (or something tried to eat them). It’s kinda tacky like drying glue and mildly irritating. They get real into rubbing the stuff on you.

Slimy salamanders are plethodontid salamanders, which is a HUGE group of salamanders that can vary quite a bit in looks, behavior, and breeding methods. What plethodontids all share is that they are lungless. They rely on their skin to breathe.

Getting some air? Or just bad at hiding?

Getting some air? Or just bad at hiding?

As far as “slimy salamander” species specifically, there are 13 species of slimy salamanders. They are more or less separated by region and, honestly, aside from minor genetic differences, I don’t know what classifies them as different species. Overall they look very similar (two or three of the species have notably fewer spots or a different shade of skin) and they can all interbreed. The little fellas and ladies I was finding were Plethodon mississipi, the Mississippi slimy salamander.

Map of slimy salamander species distribution. Any is your area?

Map of slimy salamander species distribution. Any in your area?

Everyone always wants to know how to tell a male from a female. With most plethodontids, it can be difficult outside the breeding season. The male cloaca will have papilla and be swollen when breeding, but outside that time they will look much like a female. The male will also get swelling under his chin during breeding season- this is his mental gland, which he uses to spread pheromones to the female.

Look at that sexy mental gland.

Look at that sexy mental gland.

 

My favorite way to tell males from females in most plethodontids, which many biologists will argue with me because it hasn’t been proven in all species (but statistically I find it works 100% of the time, I have yet to have it fail me, you just need good eyes): look for the ‘stache. Males have a “mustache” (or fangs), which is actually enlarged premaxillary teeth (plethodontid means “lots of teeth”) that they use to ensure delivery of pheromone to the female.

Mississippi slimy salamanders go a courtin’ in the late summer, July and August. They have teeny tiny clutches of 4-20 eggs that they lay under logs where the little female ferociously guards them… for about 2 to 3 months until they hatch. Good moms!

Momma guarding her eggs.

Momma guarding her eggs.

Eggs hatch into tiny terrestrial salamanders (no larval stage for slimy salamanders) that look like itty bitty adults. Super cute. They take about 3 years to reach maturity… and the cycle continues!

Newborn slimy. He'll get his color in a couple weeks.

Newborn slimy. He’ll get his color in a couple weeks.

So go out, flip some logs and find some cute little slimy salamanders today!

 

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