Grotto salamander

Eurycea spelaea

The grotto salamander — also called the Ozark blind salamander — is a species of salamander in the family Plethodontidae. It is now considered a member of the genus ''Eurycea'', but was originally described as ''Typhlotriton speleus''. It is endemic to the United States, specifically the karst regions beneath the
Springfield and Salem Plateaus of the Ozark Mountains part of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
Its natural habitats are freshwater springs, inland karsts, and caves. It is not currently threatened, but vulnerable to changes in groundwater quality and reduction in bat population.

The grotto salamander was discovered in 1891 on the Ozark Plateau, and described by Leonhard Hess Stejneger in 1892. This plateau remains the only area in which grotto salamanders have been found.
Grotto Salamander (Eurycea spelaea) The Grotto Salamanders (Eurycea spelaea) was described in 1897 and was one of the first true cave salamanders known to science and from North America.  The species has an aquatic larval stage which can last in excess of five years.  The larvae have fully functional eyes and can be found inhabiting surface streams which are connected to subterranean streams.  The larvae are known to eat fresh bat guano.  Most predators in subterranean systems will eat anything they can get because such ecosystems don’t offer the volume of food items that a surface ecosystem offers.  Adults are not known from outside of caves.  They lose their pigment and their eyes degenerate into non-functional lumps.  The eyelids of the salamander typically grow over them.  This individual was photographed in Oklahoma’s Ozarks in 2014.

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Appearance

The larvae of this salamander are bold in coloration: brownish or purplish gray, sometimes with yellow flecks on the sides. Adults can grow up to 13.5 cm and larvae tend to be between 10 and 30mm. They have a distinctive high tail fin and external gills. The larvae have functional eyes and may live outside of caves in brooks or streams. After two or three years, the larvae metamorphose, at which point they lose their gills, their eyelids fuse shut or at least partially shut, and the now blind adult form spends the rest of its life in a cave. The grotto salamander is the only cave salamander which undergoes metamorphosis. The adult form is pinkish white, sometimes with traces of orange on its tail, feet, and sides, and has 16–19 costal grooves.

Distribution

The grotto salamander is found in caves and caverns throughout the Ozarks. They are known from at least 120 individual sites in Arkansas, 43 in Oklahoma and 25 in Missouri. As larvae the grotto salamander lives in springs and streams near cave entrances. As adults, They migrate deep into the caves themselves and live out their lives underground. They prefer waters between 5.5 and 16.5 °C, and feed on small, cave-dwelling invertebrates such as ''Gammarus'', though they are also known to eat guano as well.

Habitat

The grotto salamander is found in caves and caverns throughout the Ozarks. They are known from at least 120 individual sites in Arkansas, 43 in Oklahoma and 25 in Missouri. As larvae the grotto salamander lives in springs and streams near cave entrances. As adults, They migrate deep into the caves themselves and live out their lives underground. They prefer waters between 5.5 and 16.5 °C, and feed on small, cave-dwelling invertebrates such as ''Gammarus'', though they are also known to eat guano as well.

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Status: Least concern
EX EW CR EN VU NT LC
Taxonomy
KingdomAnimalia
DivisionChordata
ClassAmphibia
OrderCaudata
FamilyPlethodontidae
GenusEurycea
SpeciesE. spelaea