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northern pygmy salamander

(Desmognathus organi)


This is one of the smallest North American salamanders, reaching a total length of 3.7-5.1 cm. It has a narrowly rounded snout, which along with the eyelids, are rugose (wrinkled) and characterize this species. Coloration is chestnut or coppery-colored but variable, with a dark herringbone pattern down the center of the back. Between the eye and the mouth there is a light stripe. The eggs are laid in small cavities amid the rocks of spring seeps in pockets of gravel and mud. The courtship sequence includes a behavior not previously reported for any Plethodontid salamander. A male may approach and grab a female, holding her tail, body, or head in clamped jaws. The male may restrain a female for up to several hours before proceeding with subsequent courtship activity. This salamander inhabits streams, stream banks, and seeps and is generally found in seeps, which are used for nesting and hibernation. This species lives in moss and leaf litter on the forest floor.


This species occurs in the spruce-fir forest of Whitetop Mountain, Mount Rogers, and Pine Mountain, where Grayson, Washington, and Smyth counties meet. The entire Virginia range occurs within the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. On foggy, rainy nights they may be found up to 7 feet above ground level on tree trunks. The greatest abundance are in the fraser fir-red spruce forest. They are present but not as common below the spruce-fir forest.


Food consists of small arthropods that average about 1.1 mm in length, with urabatid mites and mycetophilid flies of principal importance.