Four-Toed Salamander

Hemidactylium scutatum

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Photo of a four-toed salamander on a mossy rock.
The four-toed salamander lives in Missouri’s eastern Ozarks, among mosses in heavily forested streams and creeks and sinkhole ponds.
Tom Johnson
Species of Conservation Concern
Family

Plethodontidae (lungless salamanders) in the order Caudata (salamanders)

Description

A small, delicate salamander with a thick, round tail and four toes on both fore- and hind limbs. The snout is short and blunt. General color is yellowish tan to brown on the back with many faint, irregular black posts. Sides are grayish brown with black stippling, and the belly is pure white with numerous large, irregular black spots. The tail is distinctly constricted near its base. There are 12 to 14 costal grooves (vertical grooves on the sides of the body).

Size

Adult length: 2–3¼ inches.

Four-Toed Salamander, Ste Genevieve County

Four-Toed Salamander, Ste Genevieve County
Four-Toed Salamander, Ste Genevieve County
Four-Toed Salamander, Ste Genevieve County
Habitat and conservation

In Missouri, this species lives among mosses along heavily forested headwater streams and spring-fed creeks associated with sandstone or igneous bedrock, and also in and near natural sinkhole ponds. Away from egg-laying sites, they live under rotten logs, in leaf litter, or under rocks in seepage areas. Elsewhere in its range, this species is associated with sphagnum (peat) bogs. If captured, a four-toed salamander easily breaks off its tail and escapes.

Foods

Foods include a variety of small arthropods and mollusks.

image of Four-Toed Salamander Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Occurs in the eastern half of the Missouri Ozarks, including the St. Francois Mountains. A single, isolated population found in Lincoln County is the only population known north of the Missouri River.

Status

This species was listed as rare in Missouri for many years because of few locality records and because this species is recognized as a glacial relict (populations moved southward with glaciers, then persisted in mostly isolated, suitably cool locations after the glaciers retreated). Because a number of new locations have been discovered, this species is now listed as “apparently secure.” It remains on Missouri’s list of Species of Conservation Concern.

Life cycle

Breeding occurs in autumn. Soon after ending their winter dormancy, usually in the first weeks of April, females move to a creek, ephemeral pool, or sinkhole pond and lay about 30 eggs in a protected pocket of moss overhanging water. They remain with the eggs and eat any that spoil. They sometimes nest communally. Newly hatched larvae enter the water and after 3–6 weeks transform into a juvenile stage, which is terrestrial. It may be more than 2 years before they become sexually mature adults.

Human connections

Amphibians require water, where they mate, lay eggs, and develop into maturity. They are very sensitive to water quality, and human-caused water pollution, siltation, and other degradation, plus habitat destruction and fragmentation, threaten their survival.

Ecosystem connections

This is one of several Missouri salamanders that live in caves, seeps, or spring-fed creeks. Taking care of our cave and spring ecosystems and protecting groundwater quality is critical for them.