Cave Salamander Eurycea lucifuga

Adult from Jefferson County

Identification

Adult Cave Salamanders are medium-sized, slender salamanders with long and narrow tails. They are typically red or orange with many scattered black spots. When mature, they can reach lengths of approximately 2.5 inches SVL.

Adult from Jefferson County
Large larva from Floyd County

Cave Salamander eggs are rarely observed and are probably laid underground or in cave recesses. Some that have been observed were laid singly and attached to rocks, cave walls, or left on the bottom of cave pools (Myers 1958 and Green et al.1967, as cited in Petranka 1998). Young larvae are gray or brown with three rows of light spots on each side. As they grow, larvae retain the light spots and various degrees of mottling. They can be difficult to distinguish from other Eurycea.

Cave Salamanders can be easily confused with Long-Tailed Salamanders (Eurycea longicauda), and the two species are often found in the same habitat. Dark spots on the Cave SAlamander are relatively randomly distributed, while those of Long-Tailed Salamanders are heavily concentrated on the sides and form vertical bars on the tail. Furthermore, Cave Salamanders are generally more slender and have wider and flatter heads than Long-Tailed Salamanders.

Ecology and Conservation

Despite their name, Cave Salamanders are not strictly restricted to caves. Adults are also commonly found in springs, spring-fed streams, rocky bluffs, and forested woodlands surrounding these areas. Still, caves are often sites of high-density populations and aggregations. Cave Salamanders are most active in the twilight zones of caves and on the forest floor during mild weather and retreat farther underground during periods of extreme heat or cold. Adult Cave Salamanders feed upon a variety of terrestrial invertebrates, and larvae eat a variety of aquatic invertebrates.

Cliff overhang from Jefferson County
Cave mouth from Decatur County

In Virginia, courtship has been observed in July by Organ (1968), and Mittleman (1947, as cited in Minton 2001) found what they presumed to be a breeding congregation near Bloomington in August. Oviposition occurs during the late fall and winter, and eggs appear to hatch in February (McAtee 1906, as cited in Minton 2001). The larval period of the Cave Salamander is variable and can last 6-18 months depending upon environmental conditions (Petranka 1998).

Little is known about the conservation status of Cave Salamanders.

Distribution

Cave Salamanders are found in karst regions extending west to east from Oklahoma to Virginia and north to south from Indiana to Alabama and Georgia. In Indiana, Cave Salamanders are primarily restricted to the southeast and extend northwest up through the south-central part of the state. Minton (2001) reports a record from just south of Lafayette, but we are unaware of any recently documented Cave Salamanders from that far north.

Taxonomy

The Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga) has no recognized subspecies. These salamanders belong to the family Plethodontidae, which is the world's most diverse family of salamanders.

Literature Cited

Minton, S. A. Jr. 2001. Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis, IN.

Organ, J. A. 1968. Courtship behavior and spermatophore of the cave salamander, Eurycea lucifuga (Rafinesque). Copeia 1968:576-580.

Petranka, J. W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C.

Distribution Map
Distribution map of Cave Salamander (Eurycea lucifuga)
Photographs