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The Herps of La Crosse

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Four-toed Salamander 

Hemidactylium scutatum)

Description: The Four-toed Salamander is a relatively small species, reaching adult lengths of only 3 to 4 inches.  Its body is brown (occasionally tinted green) with red, black, or gray mottling and brighter colored limbs.  Their underbelly is generally off-white with dark flecks.  This salamander is easy to distinguish from other terrestrial salamanders in Wisconsin because, as the name suggests, it has four toes on its hind feet (unlike the others which have five).  Four-toed Salamanders are members of the Family Plethodontidae.  This family includes the "lungless" salamanders in Wisconsin, such as the Red-backed Salamander.  Members of this taxonomic Family have no lungs and "breath" through their skin.

Habitat/Ecology:  Four-toed Salamanders prefer woodlots with thick vegetation near ponds that have plentiful moss nearby-thus, they are frequently found in sphagnum bogs.  Adults prefer to reside under thick, moist organic debris (leaf litter, rotten logs, etc.), where they hunt small invertebrates.  Four-toed Salamanders will breed in fall and spring.  However, egg deposition occurs only during spring.  Females lay their eggs within dense mats of sphagnum moss that are overhanging water.   The sphagnum must be near a water source so that the larvae (which are fully aquatic) can drop into it after hatching from the egg.  Females are often found with the egg masses, guarding them.  Because thick moss is needed for egg deposition, its presence is probably a necessity for salamanders to exist within a given area.

Remarks: Christoffel et al. (2001) shows the range of this salamander to include the majority of the state.  I have also been given eye witness accounts of them in nearby Trempeleau Co..  Therefore, it is safe to assume that they exist within La Crosse County.  Unfortunately, I have only encountered these salamanders in extreme north-western WI (Bayfield Co.).  It has been reported that, when they exist in a given area, they are very abundant and frequently found with Red-backed Salamanders.  If anyone has positively found a Four-toed Salamander within the La Crosse area, please contact me.

Above: A four-toed salamander egg mass found in a hummock of sphagnum moss.

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