The Allegheny mountain dusky salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus) is grey to brown in colour with mottling on the sides. This species often has a light stripe down the back with a row of dark, chevron-shaped spots down the middle, which become less apparent with age. The underside ranges from dark brown to black. As in all dusky salamander species, a pale line runs diagonally from the eye to the jaw, and the hind legs are larger than the front legs. This species is also heavier bodied than other lungless salamanders, such as the eastern red-backed salamander. Adults attain lengths of up to 10 centimetres.
The Allegheny mountain dusky salamander can be easily confused with the northern dusky salamander, which lacks the chevron-shaped dorsal spots. The tail of the northern dusky salamander is laterally compressed at the base rather than rounded. The Allegheny mountain dusky salamander can be differentiated from all other lungless salamanders in Ontario (eastern red-backed, two-lined and four-toed) by the line running from the eye to the back of the jaw, the heavier body and hind legs that are larger than the front legs.
The Allegheny mountain dusky salamander inhabits mountain springs, seepages and small headwater streams in forested areas. Although it actively forages on the forest floor, this species is rarely found far from its aquatic habitat. Subterranean retreats and cover objects such as rocks, logs, moss and leaf litter are important microhabitats that this salamander uses for foraging, nesting and avoiding desiccation and predators. It overwinters in underground retreats or in streams, where it may remain active throughout the winter.
In Canada, this species is known to occur only at one site in Quebec and in a small portion of the Niagara Gorge in Ontario. View an interactive map of the known ranges of Allegheny mountain dusky salamanders in Ontario.
Allegheny mountain dusky salamanders belong to the “lungless” salamander family; they do not have lungs but breathe directly through their skin, which must remain moist to facilitate breathing. They breed on land in the spring or fall and have elaborate courtship rituals. The female deposits eight to 24 eggs under logs, moss or rocks along stream edges in areas where the soil is saturated with water, and remains with the eggs to protect them from predation and desiccation until they hatch six to 10 weeks later. The aquatic larvae, grow to about two centimetres before they metamorphose into semi-terrestrial adults after about one year. Males reach sexual maturity at two to three years of age, while females mature at three or four years, and individuals may live up to 15 years. Allegheny mountain dusky salamanders forage primarily at night to avoid desiccation, and eat a variety of aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates.
Other names: mountain dusky salamander, Allegheny dusky salamander
Threats and Trends
The Allegheny mountain dusky salamander relies on clean headwater streams. Pollution from urban, agricultural or industrial areas is a significant threat to this species. Changes to the groundwater table or stream flow can have significant negative impacts on salamander populations by causing the loss of aquatic habitat, bank instability from excess runoff, or changes to the moisture regimes of terrestrial habitats. Forestry activities can also degrade aquatic habitat by causing siltation of streams, as well as alter the microhabitat conditions of the forest floor. The Ontario population of the Allegheny mountain dusky salamander is especially susceptible to extirpation due to changes in water quality or quantity, since the population relies on a single seepage. This species is rare in Ontario, where it is at the northern limit of its range, and trends in this species’ population levels and distribution are unknown.
Current Status and Protection
The Allegheny mountain dusky salamander is currently listed as Endangered under both the Ontario Endangered Species Act, 2007, and the federal Species at Risk Act.The species has also been designated as a Specially Protected Amphibian under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. These acts offer some protection to individuals and their habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the global status of the Allegheny mountain dusky salamander as Least Concern. The species’ status was confirmed in December 2020.
Learn more about reptile and amphibian conservation and what you can do to help these species on our Reptile and Amphibian Stewardship page.
What You Can Do
- Report a sighting
- Get involved in reptile and amphibian conservation on your property, on the road and in your community
- Donate to support reptile and amphibian conservation
- Watch for reptiles and amphibians on the road
- Don’t release pet reptiles and amphibians into the wild
- Read more about the Allegheny mountain dusky salamander in the Ontario Reptile and Amphibians Atlas publication.