If you were of the opinion that all of the Southern Appalachians had been uncovered, all of its mountain peaks explored and its backwoods hollows inhabited, every plant and an animal found, named, and catalogued; you’d be wrong – at least up until now.

patchnosed salamander

Introduce yourself to the Southern Appalachians most recently discovered species, the patch-nosed salamander, a critter so unique from its salamander cousins it has not only be categorized as a new species of salamander, but an entirely new genus.

It’s truly a remarkable find – the first quadruped vertebrate discovered in the United States in 50 years.  The smallest salamander yet found in the country, this latest addition to the herpetofauna catalog is lungless and displays different color variations amongst males and females—rare amongst amphibians. In the above photo, the black striped salamander with the yellow tail is the male; the “plane jane” is the female. The salamander is lungless and unlike most other salamanders, has 5 toes instead of 4.

The Southern Appalachians is a hotspot of salamander diversity, hosting 60 different species in its mountain streams, vernal pools, creeks, swamps and bogs. Mountain salamander species are caught in a constant process of divergent evolution – two “sister” species of salamanders on neighboring mountains will often have one common ancestor and have, over time, developed new characteristics leading to two separate species.

hellbenderMost of us are unaware of the number and diversity of the salamanders in the streams of Alabama and Georgia. They’re not that difficult to find. Head for any small cool water stream and start to flip over rocks and logs and you’ll be sure to find one. Take your kids – Some of my favorite early childhood memories are of salamander hunting, always on the lookout for the elusive hellbender in the Eastern Ohio and West Virginia streams where I was raised.

Unfortunately, nearly all of North America’s amphibians are on the decline. They are a very clear “indicator species”—the canary in the canal. Salamanders have a very low pollution tolerance and are unable to survive in warmer temperatures. This is why they mostly stick to mountain streams and coldwater bogs and swamps. Siltation from erosion destroys their habitat. The damming of mountain streams for ponds makes their creeks too warm for them to inhabit.  There is a great fear that as climate change progresses, the mountain brooks of the Southern Appalachians will be too warm to be inhabited by many endemic salamander species and that with so many of these salamanders inhabiting just one mountain or just one stream, an extinction event will take place.

The Alabama Land Trust, Inc. and the Georgia Land Trust, Inc. are proud to work towards the protection of many of suitable salamander habitats across both states. In fact, the core of our protection efforts have taken place in Northern Alabama and Northern Georgia on Sand Mountain, Lookout Mountain and many places along the Cumberland Plateau – home to many of the Southern Appalachians cool running mountain streams.

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