Cave Frogs and Salamanders
Although many types of frogs, toads, and salamanders may wander into caves, and be classed
as accidentals, there is just one type of Missouri frog, and 5 types of Missouri salamanders which
use caves deliberately, and on a consistent enough basis to be considered as trogloxenes,
troglophiles or troglobites. These are: the pickerel frog Rana palustris, the Southern
redback salamander, Plethodon serratus, the slimy salamander, Plethodon
glutinosus, the long-tailed salamander, Eurycea longicauda, the cave salamander,
Eurycea lucifuga, and the grotto salamander, Typhlotritron spelaeus. There is
some question whether the Southern redback in caves is just a confusion with the Ozark zigzag
salamander, Plethodon dorsalis, as the outward appearances of the two are similar, and
they are closely related.
The pickerel frog frequents cave entrances and stream areas year round, but they are most
noticeable in the winter. Tens and sometimes hundreds of these frogs then crowd the mud banks
of cave streams as this location is their favorite overwintering locale. Pickerel frogs are confused
with several species of leopard frogs while outside--(they have a similar, brown, spotty
appearance) but only the pickerels go caving. They stay permanently from November to March,
when they leave the caves to breed in swampy areas. After staying outside during the spring and
summer, they re-enter the caves in late summer. Pickerel frog's skin secretions are irritating or
possibly poisonous to other small animals. Pickerel frogs are classed as either trogloxenes, or
The Southern redback is largely a salamander of cave entrances. Since all cave using
salamander species are lungless, and breathe through their skin, they require moist, damp places in
which to forage and dwell. This is not a common cave salamander, at least in the Northern
Ozarks. Both it and the zigzag are identifiable by a reddish strip down the back, and gray sides of
the body. The redback is more prominently reddish orange, and that color covers the entire
expanse of the back, whereas the zigzag red or orange stripe is never more than 1/3 the width of
the back. It is probably considered a trogloxene.
Slimy salamanders are also common in caves, most notably near the entrances, although not
exclusively. Slimies are easy to identify, as they are black with light colored spots, and an very
slick and shiny skin. Their young hatch as miniature adults. Although considered as troglophilic,
slimy salamanders are not uncommon above ground, in wet, moist areas, such as debris piles, or
after a rain.
The bright orange with dark
spotted cave salamander, (Eurycea lucifuga) are probably the most common cave dwelling salamanders, found
throughout damp Missouri caves. Another euryceid, the long-tail salamander (and its subspecies cousin the dark-sided salamander, (Eurycea
longicauda melanopleura) are both common cave dwelling salamanders in the Ozark
Highlands. They are usually an olive-yellow in color with darker brown splotches, or in the case
of the dark-sided, dark body sides. These salamanders, along with These salamanders eat small arthropods, and are quite agile,
being found in all sorts of impossible positions along cave walls, ceilings and floors. The young
hatch into gilled larva which live in the water for up to a year before becoming lungless adults.
Strangest of all Missouri cave salamanders are the grotto salamanders. These troglobitic
creatures hatch in the water as dark larvae, with functional eyes, and gills. They grow larger as
larvae than their adult size, to which they shrink as they mature. They lose their gills, and their
pigment as they grow, and the eyelids fuse shut. In some specimens, the eyes appear to "sink' into
the head. Eventually, the mature grotto salamander thins down. The adults continue to live in, or
very near the cave stream, though they make forays away from the water if an ample food supply
in a moist place is available. They are the only true troglobitic salamander in the state.
For more information on cave biology, visit Bill Elliott's Biospeleology Webpage.
2003 Jo Schaper.
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