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A purple/rust colored salamander walking on rocky substrate
Information icon Non metamorphosed Berry Cave salamander. Photo © Matthew Niemiller, used with permission.

Berry Cave salamander

Gyrinophilus gulolineatus

The Berry Cave salamander (Gyrinophilus gulolineatus) is a member of the Tennessee cave salamander complex (Gyrinophilus palleucus) but is considered to be a genetically distinct species. The Tennessee cave salamander complex also includes two subspecies, the pale salamander (Gyrinophilus palleucus palleucus) and the Big Mouth Cave salamander (Gyrinophilus palleucus necturoides). The pale salamander is the most widely distributed member of the group and is found in middle Tennessee, northern Alabama, and northwestern Georgia. The Big Mouth Cave salamander is known from several caves in middle Tennessee. The Berry Cave salamander (formerly recognized as the subspecies Gyrinophilus palleucus gulolineatus) has only been documented at 11 locations in four counties in eastern Tennessee: Knox, McMinn, Meigs, and Roane counties. Members of the Tennessee cave salamander complex are related to the spring salamander (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus). Unlike the spring salamander, which typically resides in surface waters, these salamanders are usually found in caves.

A grayish/purple salamander on rocky substrate.
Berry Cave Salamander (Gyrinophilus gulolineatus). Photo © Matthew Niemiller, used with permission.

Appearance

The Berry Cave salamander is distinguished from other members of the Tennessee cave salamander complex by a distinctive dark spot or stripe on the upper portion of the throat, a wider head, a flatter snout, and larger size. Most adults range from 80 to 105 millimeters, snout-to-vent-length with a maximum documented individual measuring 145 mm. Like other cave-dwelling salamanders, their eyes are reduced. Their gills are long and pinkish but may become bright red when the salamander is handled or otherwise stressed. Berry Cave salamanders have relatively slender limbs that are moderately long. Their tails are laterally compressed and have distinct fins that extend onto the back, causing the tails to appear oar-like.

A brownish/purple salamander next to a ruler.
Record size Berry Cave salamander, 145 mm; Photo © Matthew Niemiller, used with permission.

Like other members of the complex, Berry Cave salamanders are neotenic, meaning they normally retain their larval characteristics (such as gills) as adults. This is typical of most plethodontid salamanders. Occasionally, some will undergo metamorphosis and lose the larval characteristics. Reproductive maturity is reached when they grow to be approximately 70 millimeters. To date, neither eggs nor embryos have been described.

Habitat

Little is really known about the habitat requirements of the Berry Cave salamander, but researchers have found it associated with the subterranean waters of the Appalachian Valley and Ridge Province in eastern Tennessee, an area characterized by long ridges and valleys that run northeast to southwest. The salamanders are typically found in quiet pools, varying in depth from just a few centimeters to over a meter, and some in pools over four meters deep. Water temperatures vary but generally are within the range of 12.0–14.0 °C with a pH generally in the range of 7.2 to 7.6 (neutral to slightly alkaline). Berry Cave salamanders require sufficient cover in the form of rocks and ledges with mud to gravel/cobble in substrate streams. Individuals have been observed resting on the bottom of pools, but have also been found underneath cover, such as rocks, logs, and other debris washed into caves. They are rarely found outside of cave environments. Their use of cover varies between caves, but the Berry Cave salamander often seeks refuge in crevices, cover areas, and overhanging ledges when disturbed.

A cave cuts in to a rocky hill covered in vegetation and moss.
Berry Cave salamander habitat, Meigs county. Photo © Matthew Niemiller, used with permission.
Greenish brown water innundates an angular cave.
Berry Cave salamander habitat, Knox county. Photo © Matthew Niemiller, used with permission.

Diet

Gyrinophilus salamanders are generalist feeders; however, cave-dwelling salamanders like the Berry Cave salamander require an inflow of organic food (detritus) in order to support their invertebrate and vertebrate food sources, such as isopods, amphipods, worms, and other salamanders.

Historical range

First documented in 1953 in Athens, Tennessee, in a flooded roadside ditch, the Berry Cave salamander has been found to occupy the Clinch River and upper Tennessee River watersheds of the Valley and Ridge Province in eastern Tennessee. Until recently, the Berry Cave salamander was known from just eight caves and the roadside ditch occurrence. Since 2009, it has been found at two new sites: one location in McMinn County and one in Knox County. Although the Berry Cave salamander is not considered to have historically occupied Cruze Cave in Knox County in significant numbers, genetic studies have confirmed Berry Cave salamanders that have hybridized with spring salamanders at that location.

Current range

Since the Berry Cave salamander’s original discovery in the 1950’s, neither significant range expansion nor contraction has been documented. Status surveys are ongoing to further refine knowledge of population dynamics at sites occupied by Berry Cave salamander and to determine any new locations for the species. Based on proximity to each other, half of the known occupied sites can be combined as the Meads Quarry/Meads River/Fifth Entrance cave system population and the Aycock Spring/Christian cave system population. Three sites where Berry Cave salamanders were previously documented currently do not contain viable populations. Searches of Blythe Ferry Cave in 2018 yielded no Berry Cave salamanders and suitable habitat there appears to be rather limited. Although long-term monitoring of the cave will continue, this site will not be considered to maintain a viable population until the species is documented there again. Likewise, Cruze Cave in Knox County and the roadside ditch occurrence in McMinn County are not considered to contain currently viable populations.

A map of southeastern Tennessee highlighting species occurrences.
Locations of Berry Cave salamander in the Ridge and Valley system of Tennessee; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, May 2018.

Conservation challenges

The greatest threats to the Tennessee cave salamander complex, including the Berry Cave salamander, are water quality impacts from residential/commercial development, road construction, agricultural runoff, pesticide use in residential and agricultural settings, increased water flow into and through cave systems following timber operations, and siltation and sedimentation caused by the removal of trees from riparian zones and other riparian zone disturbances. Other factors potentially affecting the species include limitation of food sources, predation by crayfish, fish, and other salamanders, and severe fluctuations in weather patterns (droughts and floods).

A pale purple salamander on iron rich clay.
Metamorphosed adult Berry Cave salamander from eastern Tennessee. Photo © Todd Pierson, used with permission.

One cave inhabited by Berry Cave salamanders continues to be greatly impacted by past quarrying activities. Meads Quarry Cave is located at the site of a marble quarry that was operable in the 1930’s and 1940’s. During the quarrying operation, a large volume of lime material was deposited on the surface of the site. White leachate is now deposited within the cave. The pH of the water upstream of the deposition site is 7.4 but immediately down-slope of the deposition site, the water is very alkaline with pH ranging from 10 to 12.5. Berry Cave salamanders at the site have been observed with chemical burns and some deaths have been documented, as well.

A solid white substance that looks a lot like ice drains from a cave roof to the cave floor
White leachate formation in Meads Quarry Cave, Knox County, Tennessee. Photo © Matthew L. Niemiller, used with permission.

Recovery plan

A recovery plan will be drafted for the Berry Cave salamander if it is listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Partnerships, research and projects

Four men in full caving gear including hard hats and headlamps prepare to enter a cave to survey for salamanders.
Berry Cave Census Crew (left to right), – Daniel Istvanko (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency), Matthew L. Niemiller (The University of Alabama at Huntsville), Evin T. Carter (The University of Tennessee-Knoxville), and Todd Pierson (The University of Tennessee-Knoxville); Photo by David Pelren, USFWS.

Conservation management agreement at Berry Cave

The owners of Berry Cave worked with the Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and The Nature Conservancy to develop a conservation management agreement, which was signed in 2003. The agreement was developed as part of an effort to engage partners in management of the cave for conserving the Berry Cave salamander and other cave-dwelling fauna. The primary focus of the effort has been to manage human visitation in the cave, collection of salamanders, and better manage water quality inputs to the stream within the cave.

Two men walking through a cave with water up past their knees.
Jack Gress (Ijams Nature Center, Knoxville) surveying for Berry Cave salamanders in Knox County. Photo © Matthew Niemiller, used with permission.

Gates and fences

Meads Quarry Cave is gated to reduce impacts from human disturbance and is managed by the Ijams Nature Center, a 315-acre nature center that is part of Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. Christian Cave is also gated and managed by a private entity. Blythe Ferry Cave has been fenced by the Tennessee Valley Authority, owner of the cave.

Two men check on a locked gate preventing people from entering a cave.
Berry Cave salamander researchers at fenced entrance to Blythe Ferry Cave, Meigs County, Tennessee. Photo by David Pelren, USFWS.

Water quality

Forested riparian buffer zones are being managed to some degree, and ongoing management activities vary from site to site. Management activities include improvement of forested zone widths, livestock removal and/or incorporation of best management practices (e.g., fencing and use of ponds to control waste transport), road improvements (or lack thereof), development of greenways along riparian zones, and stabilization of eroding sites. Waste material from past quarrying activities that continue to leach into Berry Cave salamander habitat may be addressed through a variety of methods, such as removal of the surface material from the area and disposal at a more appropriate site.

How you can help

  • Conserve water to allow more water to remain in streams.
  • Reduce use of pesticides and other chemicals, especially around aquatic habitats.
  • Control soil erosion when undertaking certain agricultural activities, reducing runoff and introduction of sediments into waterways.
  • Restore riparian areas by planting trees and other native vegetation to help with erosion control and runoff.
  • Protect known Berry Cave salamander populations to reduce threats from over-collection.
  • Support conservation efforts of those sites.
  • Support local and state initiatives for watershed and water quality protection and improvement.
  • The following handbook is a comprehensive guide, providing standardized and comprehensive erosion prevention and sediment control best management practices for use throughout Tennessee.

Subject matter expert

  • David Pelren, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Tennessee Ecological Services Field Office, (931) 525-4974, david_pelren@fws.gov

Designated critical habitat

Critical habitat may be designated for the species if it is listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Federal Register notices

The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.

  • We're sorry but an error occurred. Visit the Federal Register to conduct your own search.

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