Ozark Zigzag Salamander

Plethodon angusticlavius
Family

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

Description

A small, dark, slender, woodland salamander with a narrow, somewhat lobed mid-dorsal stripe. The dorsal stripe is thin, usually has irregular or wavy edges, and may be yellow, yellow orange, orange, or red. Dark brown or black pigment may invade the dorsal stripe, making it look lobed, or it may cover a large part of the stripe. The dorsal stripe is usually less than 1/3 the width of the body; it is widest near the hind limbs. Sometimes there is no dorsal stripe. The belly has white and black mottling. The sides are dark or brownish gray with some orange or red, and small white flecks. There are 17–19 costal grooves (vertical grooves on the sides of the body).

Similar species: The dorsal stripe of the southern red-backed salamander (P. serratus) is uniform in width, wider, and has serrated (toothed) edges. Its range overlaps but mostly occurs north and east of the Ozark zigzag’s range.

Size

Length: 2¼–4 inches.

Habitat and conservation

Usually occurs in or near caves in the Ozark highlands. It hides in or under rotten logs, under rocks, and under leaf litter in seepages near small streams and on steep hillsides. It seems to prefer cooler and damper habitats than the closely related southern red-backed salamander.

Foods

Very small arthropods, including insects, spiders, and other joint-legged invertebrates.

image of Ozark Zigzag Salamander Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Occurs in the south and southwestern portion of the Missouri Ozarks, mainly southwestern counties along the Arkansas border.

Status

This species was once considered a subspecies of the northern zigzag salamander (P. dorsalis). But the Ozark zigzag salamander is both geographically isolated and genetically divergent from that species, so scientists elevated it to full species status.

Life cycle

Courtship and breeding may occur in autumn, winter, and early spring. From May through August, females deposit eggs deep underground, in places where accumulated small rocks create many small cavities or in other cool, damp niches. There are 2–5 eggs per clutch. Females remain with the eggs until they hatch. Like all other species of their genus, Ozark zigzag salamanders go through complete development in the egg and hatch as tiny replicas of the adults, less than 1 inch long.

Human connections

Like other amphibians in our state, this salamander depends on humans to restrain from destroying, degrading, and fragmenting their native habitat. Salamanders are both literally and figuratively voiceless. People who care about their survival must speak up for them when it comes to public policy.

Ecosystem connections

These and other lungless salamanders are integral parts of the caves and forested streams, springs, and seeps they occupy. As predators, they help control the numbers of the insects and other creatures they eat. As prey, the adults, eggs, and young help feed larger predators.