|Adult, Jackson Co., Alabama (Photo by Dante Fenolio)|
Conservation Status: IUCN Red List - Vulnerable B2ab(iii,iv); NatureServe - GSG3 (Alabama: S2, Georgia: S1, Tennessee: S2). This species is 'Protected' in Alabama, 'Threatened' in Georgia, and 'Threatened' in Tennessee.
Description: Gyrinophilus palleucus is one of the four species of cave-obligate salamanders found east of the Mississippi River in the United States. They are large, aquatic salamanders that can reach lengths of 210 mm. Unlike most species of salamanders, Gyrinophilus palleucus does not readily undergo metamorphosis and attains sexual maturity in the larval stage. Consequently, they retain the conspicuous paired gills located on each side of the back of the head throughout life. Adults have a broad head with a flattened, shovel-like snout. They eyes are reduced in size compared to related surface-dwelling cousins like the Spring Salamander (G. porphyriticus) and Red Salamander (Pseudotriton ruber), but they are not completely degenerate as observed in other obligate cave-dwelling salamanders. However, some adults may have skin that completely covers their eyes. Also unlike other cave salamanders, G. palleucus is distinctly pigmented and ranges in color from pale pink and lacking spotting to dark reddish purple or brown with distinct spots or blotches on the back. Adults also have a series of unpigmented dots that represent pores of the lateral line system on the head and along the sides of the body that are used to detect moving prey, conspecifics and potential predators in their aquatic environment. Juveniles generally resemble adults but are much paler, lack conspicuous spots or blotches, and possess eyes that are proportionally larger relative to head size. Two subspecies are recognized: the Pale Salamander (G. p. palleucus) and the Big Mouth Cave Salamander (G. p. necturoides). These subspecies differ in coloration, relative eye size and number of trunk vertebrae but are thought to hybridize throughout much of northern Alabama.
|Juvenile, Jackson Co., Alabama|
Habitat: Both adults and juveniles are most often observed resting on the bottom of shallow pools in the dark zone of subterranean streams but are also can be found in riffles and rimstone pools. They are most often found underneath rocks or within mats of organic debris washed into caves. Gyrinophilus palleucus has been found within the twilight zone of caves on occasion and at least one report was from a surface spring after heavy rainfall.
|Adult, Coffee Co., Tennessee (Photo by Matthew L. Niemiller)|
|Adult, Warren Co., Tennessee (Photo by Matthew L. Niemiller)|
Fun Fact: The Tennessee Cave Salamander is officially recognized as the state amphibian of Tennessee.
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