Cheat Mountain Salamander

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Cheat Mountain Salamander

Plethedon nettingi

ListedAugust 18, 1989
FamilyPlethodontidae (Lungless Salamander)
DescriptionGray to black with silver or gold flecks on its back.
HabitatMoist, highland woods.
ReproductionEgg masses laid May to August.
ThreatsHabitat alteration by timbering, mining, and recreational development.
RangeWest Virginia


The Cheat Mountain salamander is one of the lungless salamanders, also known as woodland salamanders. These salamanders lack lungs and must rely on respiratory exchange directly through their skin. This species, which grows to a length of about 4.6 in (12 cm), has a dark back, marked with silver or gold flecks, and a dark gray to black belly. It generally has 18 vertical grooves on its sides that show the position of the ribs. Once considered a subspecies of Plethodon richmondi, it was reclassified as a full species in 1971.


This salamander generally spends the day under rocks and logs or in rock crevices. At night, particularly in wet weather, it forages on the forest floor for mites, springtails, beetles, flies, and other insects. Although mating has not been observed, it is assumed to be similar to other woodland salamanders. The eggs are fertilized internally and undergo complete development. Unlike most other salamanders there is no aquatic larval stage. Masses of from four to 17 eggs are deposited on logs or moss from May to June.


The Cheat Mountain salamander is found in moist West Virginia forests at elevations above about 3,000 ft (915 m), typically where red spruce (Picea rubens) and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) are the dominant species


The precise historic range of the species is unknown because almost all of its preferred habitat was stripped of trees before the species was discovered. Researchers believe that the species was much more widespread in West Virginia prior to deforestation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Today the Cheat Mountain salamander survives in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia in Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, and Tucker counties. Its range consists of an area of approximately 700 sq mi (1,813 sq km), almost entirely within the Monongahela National Forest. A total of 68 populations are known; 60 are on Forest Service land, three are in West Virginia state parks, and five are on private land. Detailed population studies of the known sites are now in progress. During the initial surveys made during the 1980s fewer than 10 salamanders were observed at three-quarters of the sites.


The chief threat to the Cheat Mountain salamander is alteration of its habitat by logging and other activities that remove the forest canopy. Loss of forest cover exposes the salamander to hot, dry conditions in which it cannot survive. Between 1880 and 1920 virtually all of the old-growth timber in eastern West Virginia was cut. The Cheat Mountain salamander managed to survive in pockets of marginal high-elevation habitat. One of the healthiest populations is found near a 200-acre (81-hectare) tract of the only virgin red spruce remaining. In recent decades some forest regeneration has taken place. Today mixed spruce-hardwood forests cover an estimated 27,000-67,000 acres (10,927-27,114 hectares), and timber sales are again taking place. One population has been extirpated by clear-cutting and seven others are likely to die out because of timbering activity.

In addition, some high-elevation forest is being cut for the construction of ski resorts. Within the species' range four resorts are operating and another is being developed.

High-elevation coal mining has also had a negative effect on the species. At least five salamander populations have been severely affected by mining activities.

Conservation and Recovery

The Fish and Wildlife Service published a Recovery Plan for the Cheat Mountain salamander in 1991. The key to the conservation of this rare amphibian is the protection of its habitat of older-growth forest. Sixty of the known critical habitats occur in the Monongohela National Forest, owned and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, while another three are in West Virginia state parks, and five are privately owned. The publicly owned habitats should be protected from threatening human influences, especially those associated with forestry. The critical habitats on private land could also be protected by acquiring the habitat and designating ecological reserves, or by negotiating conservation easements with the landowners. The populations of the Cheat Mountain salamander should be surveyed more extensively and monitored, and research undertaken into its biology, habitat needs, and beneficial management practices.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
One Gateway Center, Suite 700
Newton Corner, Massachusetts 02158

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1825 Virginia Street
Annapolis, Maryland 21401


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. "Cheat Mountain Salamander (Plethedon nettingi) Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Massachusetts.