Cheat Mountain Salamander
Scientific Name: Plethodon nettingi
Description: Cheat Mountain salamanders are lungless, woodland salamanders with dark brown backs covered in brassy flecks of color. Their bellies are dark gray, and they have a series of vertical grooves that run along their sides.
Size: Cheat Mountain salamanders are small in size relative to other members of this family. Adults grow to just 4 inches long from the snout to the tip of the tail.
Diet: On humid evenings, Cheat Mountain salamanders roam the forest floor in search of food. Their diet is largely composed of mites, springtails, beetles, flies, and ants. They occasionally climb trees and stumps looking for insects.
Predation: Predators of Cheat Mountain salamanders include short-tailed shrews, common garter snakes, and ring-necked snakes. However, this salamander has a special defense to thwart its attackers—it produces a slimy, noxious chemical on its skin which causes unpleasant side effects for anything that tries to eat it.
Typical Lifespan: Cheat Mountain salamanders reach sexual maturity after 3 to 4 years and live up to age 20.
Habitat: Despite being so long lived, individual Cheat Mountain salamanders rarely leave their 48 square foot territory. They keep to the cover of forests with moist ground cover for a very important reason—they lack lungs and must breathe through their skin. When it gets too hot and dry, the salamanders must retreat to cover or die. They are most closely associated with red spruce and yellow birch-dominated forests.
Range: These salamanders are named for their presence in the Cheat Mountains in West Virginia. They are found only in the mountainous regions of eastern central West Virginia.
Life History and Reproduction: Female Cheat Mountain salamanders lay their eggs in spring, and unlike many salamanders, they stick around to guard them from predators. The offspring undergo metamorphosis from a larval stage while still in the egg. When they hatch, they look like miniature adults. Cheat Mountain salamanders live aboveground during most of the year but retreat underground in winter.
Fun Fact: The Cheat Mountain salamander is one of 30 salamander species found in West Virginia, but it is the only one that is endemic to (found only in) the state.
Conservation Status: Cheat Mountain salamanders are federally listed as threatened. They can’t survive without trees, because the forest canopy shields them from the desiccating effects of the sun. Tree removal, even just for a small trail, fragments their habitats. The salamanders already occupy very small individual territories and don’t disperse to new areas easily. Fortunately most of the range of Cheat Mountain salamanders is located within the protected Monongahela National Forest. However the West Virginia Heritage Program assessed the Cheat Mountain Salamander as extremely vulnerable to negative impacts of climate change because they live only at high elevation and require a narrow temperature range, and as temperatures warm their high elevation habitat will be seriously affected.
Animal Diversity Web
Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment of Species of Concern in West Virginia
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
West Virginia Division of Natural Resources