Phaeognathus hubrichti

Red Hills Salamander

FWS Focus

Overview

Characteristics
Overview

The Red Hills salamander is a large, terrestrial, fossorial, or burrowing, lungless salamander and is the sole member of the genus Phaeognathus. It was listed in 1977 under the Endangered Species Act as a federally threatened species. The Red Hills salamander is the only terrestrial vertebrate species that is entirely confined, or endemic, to Alabama. Its entire global range falls within the Red Hills Region of Alabama, in portions of Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Butler, Monroe and Wilcox counties. 

Scientific Name

Phaeognathus hubrichti
Common Name
Red Hills Salamander
FWS Category
Amphibians
Kingdom

Location in Taxonomic Tree

Identification Numbers

TSN:

Characteristics

Characteristic category

Habitat

Characteristics
Habitat

Habitat for the Red Hills salamander consists of mature, closed-canopy hardwood forest that are located on the steep slopes and moist ravines of the Tallahatta, Nanafalia and Hatchetigbee geologic formations. Here, an erosion-resistant limestone layer often outcrops in ledges above bluffs and ravines, with an underlying layer of siltstones, claystones, sandstones and clays exposed on the slopes below the limestone. The subterranean siltstone layer retains water, which is important for maintaining the suitable moisture required by the lungless salamander. In addition, loamy soils, deciduous leaf litter and the forest canopy cover provide shade and moisture, which are important habitat elements to prevent the drying of the forest floor.

The Red Hills salamander inhabits burrows and fissures within these formations. Burrow entrances are small, dime to nickel-sized, oval in shape and typically have smooth rounded edges. Evidence from field and laboratory research indicates the entire Red Hills salamander life cycle, including breeding, egg-laying, hatching and larval development, may occur entirely within these burrows. Typically, these nocturnal salamanders will spend large amounts of time, mostly at night, in burrow entrances with only their heads visible, as they patiently wait to ambush and eat invertebrates. Very rarely will more than their front legs be exposed outside of the burrow.

Typical tree and shrub species found in Red Hills salamander habitat include tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), oaks (Quercus spp.), hickories (Carya spp.), Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), and several species of magnolia (Magnolia spp.).  

Forest

Land covered by evergreen trees in cool, northern latitudes. Also called taiga.

Characteristic category

Food

Characteristics
Food

The salamanders rarely leave their burrows, and prey on invertebrates like snails, insects, spiders and earthworms - both within and near the burrow entrance. 

Characteristic category

Behavior

Characteristics
Behavior

Due to their secretive nature, the mating behavior and dispersal capabilities of the Red Hills salamander remain largely unknown. 

Characteristic category

Physical Characteristics

Characteristics
Physical Characteristics

Due to their secretive nature, mating behavior and dispersal capabilities of the Red Hills salamander remain largely unknown. 

Size & Shape

The species is distinct from other lungless salamanders because of its large size, elongated trunk and short legs.

The Red Hills salamander grows to a total length of about 8 inches (20 cm), its body color is dark brown with no distinct markings and it breathes through its moist skin.

Characteristic category

Life Cycle

Characteristics
Life Span

The lifespan of Red Hills salamander in the wild is thought to be approximately 10 to 11 years, although one zoo specimen has lived more than 36 years in captivity.

Reproduction

Based on studies, Red Hills salamanders have low reproductive rates compared to other salamanders. Females are believed to deposit and incubate approximately 6 to 10 eggs, or ova, in the burrow from early spring until September. Hatchlings exhibit direct development, meaning that they have no aquatic larval stage, and possess large, feathery gills until about 10 days after hatching.

Geography

Characteristics
Range

The known range of the Red Hills salamander of approximately 60,000 acres of habitat is limited to the west by the Alabama River and to the east by the Conecuh River, within the Red Hills Region in portions of Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Butler, Monroe and Wilcox counties.

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