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A light purple salamander with dark spots and tufts above its front legs.
Information icon Black Warrior waterdog. Photo by Joseph Jenkins, Alabama Natural Heritage Program.

Black Warrior waterdog

Necturus alabamnesis

  • Taxon: Amphibian, Proteidae (Mudpuppies, Olms, Waterdogs)
  • Range: Alabama
  • Status: Endangered

Appearance

The Black Warrior waterdog is a large, aquatic, nocturnal salamander that permanently retains a larval form and external gills throughout its life. Its head and body are depressed, its tail is compressed laterally, and it has four toes on each of its four feet. Larval Black Warrior waterdogs (28 to 48 millimeters (mm) 1 to 2 inches total length) are dark brown or black on their dorsum (upper surfaces) and have two light stripes running along their sides.

An elongated salamander on sandy substrate with red tufts at the back of it's head.
Black Warrior waterdog. Photo © Todd Pierson CC BY-NC-SA 3.0.

Adults may reach a maximum of 240 mm or 9 ½ inches total length; sub-adults (40 to 100 mm 1 ½ to 4 inches total length) do not have the stripes that are present on larvae and are not conspicuously marked, although they do have a dark stripe extending from the nostril through the eye to the gills. Adults are usually brown, may be spotted or unspotted, and retain the dark eye stripe. The ventral surface of all age classes is plain white.

Habitat

The Black Warrior waterdog is only found in streams within the Black Warrior River Basin in Alabama.

Black Warrior waterdogs depend on specific stream substrates for normal and robust life processes such as breeding, rearing, protection of young, protection of adults when threatened, foraging, and feeding. Preferred substrates are dominated by clay or bedrock with little sand, also containing abundant rock crevices and rock slabs for retreats (shelter) and areas for egg laying.

A rocky outcrop on the bank of a stream with sandy sediment.
Potential Black Warrior waterdog habitat on Sipsey fork of the Black Warrior River. Photo by Matthias Laschet, USFWS.

Based on Neuse River waterdog research, breeding sites are large bedrock outcrops or large boulders with sand and gravel beneath them. Retreat areas for Neuse River waterdog were on the downstream side of the shelter (usually rock slab) and were actively developed and maintained free of algae and debris. Excessive siltation of the crevices and leaf packs removes foraging, feeding, breeding and retreat areas for the Black Warrior waterdog. Therefore, based on the above information, we identify essential physical and biological feature for the Black Warrior waterdog to be hard bottom substrate with a combination of boulders, rock slabs, and rock outcrops; riparian buffer width of 100 feet with deciduous trees along banks to create leaf packs and reduce sedimentation; and seasonal flow to provide connectivity and to remove excessive sediment covering the stream bottom and leaf packs.

A medium sized stream forested on both sides with rocks and boulders of various sizes.
Sipsey fork of the Black Warrior River. Photo Matthias Laschet, USFWS.

Diet

Larval and adult Black Warrior waterdogs are assumed to be opportunistic carnivores, but prey taken in the wild has not been described. Adults are attracted to traps baited with fish-flavored cat food. Captive Black Warrior waterdogs have eaten small fish and earthworms. Crayfish, isopods, amphipods, freshwater clams, and insects, including mayflies, caddisflies, dragonfly naiads, dytiscid beetles, and midges, have been reported as prey items in Gulf Coast waterdogs.

Historical range

There are a total of 11 historical records from sites in Blount, Tuscaloosa, Walker, and Winston Counties, Alabama. Black Warrior waterdog habitat is similar to that of the threatened flattened musk turtle (Sternotherus depressus) a species restricted to permanent streams above the Fall Line in the Black Warrior Basin.

A map depicting this salamanders historical range in northwestern Alabama.
Black Warrior waterdog’s historical range. Map by Drew Rollman, USFWS.

Current Range

The species is currently found in medium to large streams in the Black Warrior River Basin (Sipsey Fork, Brushy Creek, Rush Creek, Locust Fork, Gurley Creek, Yellow Creek, and Brown Creek). Most of these streams contain sites with intact physical characteristics such as clay or bedrock substrate with little sand, also containing abundant rock crevices and rock slabs and other factors considered to as key physical and biological features. Heavy siltation could reduce cover, food, and smother nests and eggs.

Conservation Challenges

Sedimentation can seriously affect Black Warrior waterdogs by: reduction of food sources such as invertebrates; physical alteration to the rocky habitats where they forage, take cover, and breed; and developing a substrate in which chemicals toxic to the species and their food sources may accumulate and persist. Black Warrior waterdogs are virtually in constant contact with the substrate and therefore also with any toxic chemicals present. Similarly, excessive nutrients (which can be toxic to a species) promote dense filamentous growth on the substrate and within the water column, which may restrict retreat areas and breeding sites.

Subject Matter Experts

Designated Critical Habitat

The ESA requires the Service to identify the location of habitat essential for the conservation of the Black Warrior waterdog, which it terms critical habitat. Currently, there are 26 federally protected species found in the Basin, 15 of which are found in rivers and streams. This designation includes 127 miles of habitat already designated for those protected fish, mussels and salamanders. In addition, the designation includes 293 new river miles, which altogether covers more than sixtyfifty percent of the waterdog’s historic habitat.

The Service is designating critical habitat in four units all within the historical range of the Black Warrior waterdog. The designation is comprised of four tributaries within the Black Warrior River Basin; Sipsey Fork (Lawrence and Winston Counties); Locust Fork (Blount, Etowah, Jefferson, and Marshall Counties); Blackwater Creek (Walker and Winston Counties); and Yellow Creek (Tuscaloosa County)

Critical habitat is a tool within the ESA which identifies areas essential for the conservation of endangered or threatened species. It does not set up a preserve or refuge, but may require special management considerations in the identified areas. Designating critical habitat under the ESA does not affect private landowners unless the action involves federal funds, permits, or other federally activities. The final decision to designate critical habitat essential to the Black Warrior Waterdog will be based on the best scientific information available.

Unit Location Occupied Private Ownership rkm/rmi Federal Ownership rkm/rmi Existing CH rkm/rmi Total Length rkm/rmi
1 Yellow Creek Yes 3019 3019
2 Locust Fork Yes 391243 10163 391243
3 Blackwater Creek Yes 12880 12880
4 Sipsey Fork Yes 117 11371 10364 12478
TOTALS 560349 11371 204127 673420
A map highlighting critical habitat stretches in north central Alabama.
Critical habitat for the Black Warrior waterdog. Map by USFWS.

How You Can Help

Individuals can do a number of things to help protect this species, including:

  • Conserving water to allow more water to remain in streams.
  • Using pesticides responsibly (especially around streams and lakes) to prevent runoff.
  • Controlling soil erosion by planting trees and plants to avoid runoff of sediments into freshwater areas.
  • Help your family find ways to reduce the amount of chemicals that you pour down the drain in your home or use on your lawn or garden.
  • Support conservation efforts that protect these unique animals and the habitats they live in.
  • Learn more about how the destruction of habitat leads to loss of endangered and threatened species and our nation’s plant and animal diversity. Discuss with others what you have learned.
  • Support local and state initiatives for watershed and water quality protection and improvement.

Learn more about best management practices for keeping sediments out of streams.

Other Scientific Resources

Federal Register Documents

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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