The Streamside Salamander

Biologists search for the eggs of a rare salamander in the rocky streams of a Tennessee cedar glade, trying to find out just how many live here.


Its world is primarily one of solitude in dark places, just the way this animal likes it. In fact, most of us will live our entire lives without seeing one. But that doesn’t mean the streamside salamander is any less important than animals we see almost every day. It may be small, but the streamside salamander is an increasingly important indicator of how we treat our natural world. Wild Side Guide Alan Griggs takes us to the Flat Rock Cedar Glade and Barrens where a biology professor and his students are counting salamander eggs, to see how this shy amphibian can help us better appreciate what we have today and what we need to do to ensure its future.

The streamside salamander, Ambystoma barbouri, is only found in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and small sections of Tennessee. Recent studies have found the streamside salamanders living in Tennessee to be genetically distinct from the ones found in Kentucky. The salamander is being considered for Federal protection as an endangered species, but will most likely be a few years before the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service can make a determination on the salamander’s status, due to a very heavy workload…there are currently over 400 species dependent upon southeastern riparian and aquatic habitats that have been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act, which is just a part of the more then 1,000 species petitioned to be listed nationwide.

Dr. Brian Miller, a professor in the Middle Tennessee State University biology department, plans to continue the streamside salamander population surveys with his students for at least another year. After that, he will most likely develop other research projects focusing on the species, looking more closely at the salamander’s larval stages. While the streamside salamander’s future is uncertain, recent estimates of the population put them at over ten thousand…still a small number when you consider its habitat is often compromised by the needs of expanding metropolitan areas.

Flat Rock Cedar Glade and Barrens is one of Tennessee’s most ecologically significant State Natural Areas and is an important research natural area, located only a few miles from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Flat Rock supports a mosaic of forest types, oak barrens, open grassland barrens, and cedar glades, including federal and state listed plant species and glade endemic species. These glades are characterized by exposed limestone that is typically interspersed with cedar-oak-hickory forest that occurs in deeper soils. This limestone, with its many sinkholes, is a karst topography commonly associated with glades.

Here are some educational resources (pdf format) for additional information on the streamside salamander:

Notes on the Reproduction of the Streamside Salamander

Amphibians of Tennessee:  Streamside Salamander

From show 2909

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