Shovelnose Salamander (Desmognathus marmoratus)

Shovelnose Salamander (Desmognathus marmoratus)

Photos by J.D. Willson unless otherwise noted

Description: Formerly known as Leurognathus marmoratus, the Shovelnose Salamander (now Desmognathus marmoratus) is a fairly large Dusky Salamander whose length ranges from 3.5-5 in (9-12.5 cm). These salamanders are found in a variety of colors. Their dorsum is generally black, brown, gray or yellowish in color with two bands of lightly colored disjointed spots. Their venter is frequently light gray in color. The Desmognathine eye stripe (a stripe from the eye to the jaw that is characteristic of the Dusky Salamanders) is very pale and can be hard to distinguish. The Shovelnose Salamanders received their names due to the fact that their heads are more flattened and wedge-shaped than those of other Desmognathines. Additionally, their internal nostril openings are slits that are not always visible. They have a compressed tail that is half the length of their bodies and dark, heavily cornified toe tips. Males are slightly larger than females. Shovelnose salamanders can be very hard to distinguish from other large Desmognathus (i.e., seal salamander, D. monticola; blackbelly salamander, D. quadramaculatus; northern dusky salamander, D. fuscus). Often habitat use (shovelnose salamanders prefer fairly deep fast-flowing water) is the best initial hint to the identity of this species.

Range and Habitat: The Shovelnose Salamander is only found in a section of the Appalachian Mountains, with the bulk of their range in North Carolina and Tennessee. In our region they are only found in extreme northeastern Georgia and northwestern South Carolina. They live in cool mountain streams and can be found hiding under rocks in the shallow parts of streams and in riffles. Shovelnose salamanders are the most aquatic of all of the stream salamanders in our region (excluding Hellbenders and mudpuppies). They prefer to be totally submerged and are often found under rocks in the center of streams. Unlike all of the other Desmognathus, they are seldom found at the stream edge.

Habits: Shovelnose Salamanders spend most of their time totally submerged in streams, where they feed on larval and nymphal states of aquatic insects. They lay 24-48 eggs a year in July by attaching them to the underside of rocks or logs in a stream. Generally, the aquatic larvae metamorphose within three years.

Conservation status: At the present, the Shovelnose Salamander is not state or federally threatened, but its small range in our region makes it a conservation concern. Stream Salamanders are intolerant of siltation and are vulnerable to habitat degradation.

Pertinent Reference:
Bruce, R.C. 1985: Larval periods, population structure and the effects of stream drift in larvae of the salamanders Desmognathus quadramaculatus and Leurognathus marmoratus in a southern Appalachian stream. Copeia: 1985:847-854.

Account Author: Brittany Bloom, University of Georgia – edited by J.D. Willson