Coeur d'Alene Salamander - Plethodon idahoensis
The Coeur d'Alene Salamander is a small, dark gray to black, lungless salamander with a yellowish throat patch, and a yellow, orange, green, or red dorsal stripe. The stripe usually has scalloped edges, though they may be even. The legs are relatively long with short, slightly webbed toes. The adult body length is about 5 to 6 centimeters (2 to 2.4 inches).
The maximum snout-vent length (SVL) (body length without tail) of the Coeur d'Alene Salamander is 62 millimeters with only 0.5 to 3.0 intercostal folds between adpressed limbs. It has the fewest costal grooves of all western Plethodon. It also has more vomerine and premaxillary-maxillary teeth and a relatively shorter tail than other western Plethodon.
Western Hemisphere Range
Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
The species is a non-migrant.
The occupied habitat for Coeur d'Alene Salamanders in Montana is like that for the entire global range, and includes the three major habitat categories: springs and seeps, waterfall spray zones, and stream edges (Wilson and Larsen 1988, Werner and Reichel 1994, Boundy 2001, Maxell 2002).
More specifically, primary habitats are seepages and streamside talus; they also inhabit talus far from free water (deep talus mixed with moist soil on well-shaded north-facing slopes). In wet weather, it occurs also in leaf litter and under bark and logs in coniferous forests. The species is a terrestrial breeder, with eggs presumably laid in underground rock crevices, although no nest sites have been found in the wild.
All plethodontid salamanders respire through their skin; terrestrial species lose water to the environment through evaporation and are therefore restricted to cool, damp environments. Because Coeur d'Alene Salamanders may live in the harshest climate of any northwestern plethodontid (Nussbaum et al. 1983), they are highly dependent on the thermal and hydrologic stability provided by wet habitats in otherwise inhospitable surroundings. For this reason, Coeur d'Alene Salamanders are closely tied to water and are considered among the most aquatic plethodontids (Brodie and Storm 1970).
Coeur d'Alene Salamanders have been found in three major types of habitat: springs or seeps, waterfall spray zones, and edges of streams. Seventy-six percent of known locations are classified as seeps, 6% as waterfalls, and 17% as streams. Two sites occur in abandoned mines. However, the relative number of locations in each type is biased by differences in survey efficiency and probably does not reflect the importance of the different habitats. The abundance of seep locations is at least partly due to the relative ease of surveying roadside seeps. Streams and waterfalls are often less accessible, particularly at night. Coeur d'Alene Salamanders are most difficult to find in streamside habitat, where they are usually observed underneath moist rocks on the banks adjacent to the water. Searches of 30 minutes to find a Coeur d'Alene Salamander at a stream site during daylight are not uncommon (Groves 1988).
Coeur d'Alene Salamander occurrences are generally located in coniferous forests, but are not restricted to a particular overstory species or aspect. Populations have been found in areas with ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western larch (Larix occidentalis), western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) overstories (Groves 1988, Groves et al. 1996) at all aspects.
Ninety percent of 99 Idaho occurrences where habitat data have been collected were in areas of greater than 25% canopy cover and only two (both seeps) were in an area with 10% cover or less. Forest cover may be more important near stream sites than seep sites. Average cover at seven streamside sites (83% + or - 15%) was significantly greater than at seep locations (57% + or - 5%), (Cassirer et al. 1994). Minimum canopy cover measured at stream sites was 42%. Terrain at sites was typically steep, with average slopes of 62% (range 10-90%) (Groves 1988, Wilson 1991).
Known populations occur in association with sharply fractured rock formations (used for underground refugia) from 488 meters to 1,524 meters in elevation. This fractured rock is often found in the Belt Rock formation but can also occur in talus and in other geologic types (Wilson and Simon 1987, Groves and Cassirer 1989). The species is found in conjunction with both persistent and intermittent surface water. Thus, it is possible to locate Coeur d'Alene Salamanders at a wet site in the spring, yet be unable to find any animals at the same site later in the summer when the site is dry on the surface.
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
- Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
- Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
- Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
- Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
- Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
- Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
- Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
- Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
- Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Sparse and Barren Systems
- Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
This species is an invertivore. When above ground, Coeur d'Alene Salamanders feed primarily on insects (11 orders documented) and other invertebrates, including millipeds, mites, spiders, harvestmen, snails, and segmented worms (Wilson and Larsen 1988). They appear to be opportunistic feeders and generally restrict foraging activities to moist spray zones, seeps, or streamside rocks and vegetation, although they may venture beyond these areas during rainy periods. The diet is most similar to other salamanders that occupy semi-aquatic habitats.
The Coeur d'Alene Salamander is most often nocturnal when surface-active, although it has been seen in daytime during rain, heavy overcast, and clear sky conditions (Wilson and Larsen 1988). Surface activity is weakly and positively correlated to nighttime substrate temperature, and negatively correlated to daytime substrate temperature and number of days since the last rain. Surface activity is most prevalent during spring and fall. The wet microclimate it occupies buffers this species from climatic extremes and may explain its persistence in a region lacking other species of plethodontid salamanders. Altogether, this species may spend up to seven months underground (Nussbaum et al. 1983, Cassirer et al. 1994, Groves et al. 1996).
Population sizes are difficult to measure, and no estimates are available. Predators include birds, gartersnakes, and possibly small mammals or ground beetles (Wilson and Simon 1985, Staub 1995, Wilson and Wilson 1996). Other sources of mortality include trampling (Werner and Reichel 1994). Males are sexually mature in about 39 months (44 millimeters SVL); females at 42 months (48 to 49 millimeters SVL). They typically lay their first clutch during their 5th spring (Lynch 1984). Activity positively correlated with nighttime substrate temperature (Wilson and Larsen 1988). Summer activity was negatively correlated with daytime substrate temperatures and number of days since the last rain (Wilson and Larsen 1988). Evidence exists for snake predation upon the species: on July 24, 1986 in the Kootenai River Gorge, Lincoln County, Wilson and Wilson (1996) retrieved a 2.5 centimeter P. idahoensis tail tip from a fresh road-killed snake, Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis (39.5 centimeters SVL), and on June 8, 1987, they palped a neonate P. idahoensis (1.8 centimeters SVL) from an immature T.s. parietalis (18.9 centimeters SVL) above the west shore of Lake Koocanusa, Lincoln County, Montana.
Little information exists regarding Coeur d'Alene Salamander reproduction in Montana. An egg mass was laid by a captive female in early June. The egg mass was 21 millimeters maximum dimension and contained a clutch of seven eggs (Larson et al. 1998).
Generally, Coeur d'Alene Salamanders mate above ground in late summer and fall (August to October) and, to a lesser extent, in spring (April and May) (Lynch 1984). After a courtship ritual of an hour or more, the male deposits a spermatophore, which is picked up by the female with her cloaca (Lynch and Wallace 1987). Females store sperm up to nine months before fertilizing eggs. An average of six eggs is deposited in April or May. The young emerge in mid-September (Lynch 1984).
Neonates apparently grow more slowly than other Plethodon species. Growth probably occurs in spurts associated with wet weather in the spring and fall. Male Coeur d'Alene Salamanders reach sexual maturity at 3.5 years of age and females at 4.5 years, but some individuals may delay breeding. Males mate every year, whereas females mate in alternate years (Lynch 1984).
Potential threats for the species across its global range apply also to Montana populations, but population declines or extinctions have not yet been documented. Some populations continue to be vulnerable to highway construction activity, and most occur at elevations and in forest types where timber harvest is a common activity. Routine monitoring (Groves et al. 1996) of known populations should be conducted to identify threats to each, as well as to determine their continued viability.
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- Boundy, J. 2001. Herpetofaunal surveys in the Clark Fork Valley region, Montana. Herpetological Natural History 8: 15-26.
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- Groves, C. and F. Cassirer. 1989. A survey of the Katka-Boulder and Horizon Analysis areas, Idaho Panhandle National Forest, for the Coeur d’Alene salamander (Plethodon vandykei idahoensis). Idaho Department of Fish and Game. 15 p.
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- Nussbaum, R.A., E.D. Brodie, Jr. and R.M. Storm. 1983. Amphibians and reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. University of Idaho Press. Moscow, ID. 332 pp.
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- Wilson, A.G. Jr. 1991. A survey of the Avery Ranger District, Idaho Panhandle National Forests, for the Coeur d' Alene salamander (Plethodon idahoensis). Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, Boise. 44 p.
- Wilson, A.G. Jr. and E.M. Simon. 1985. Plethodon vandykei idahoensis (Coeur d' Alene salamander). Predation. Herpetological Review 16: 111.
- Wilson, A.G. Jr. and E.M. Wilson. 1996. Plethodon idahoensis (Coeur d' Alene salamander). Snake predation. Herpetological Review 27: 138.
- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
Do you know of a citation we're missing?
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- Wilson, A.G., Jr. 1993. Biogeographic and morphometric analyses of the Plethodon vandykei species group. Ph.D. Dissertation. Washington State University, Pullman, WA. 127 p.
- Wilson, A.G., Jr., and P. Ohanjanian. 2002. Plethodon idahoensis. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles 741.1-741.4.
- Additional Sources of Information Related to "Amphibians"