A team of scientists has discovered the largest individual of any cave salamander in North America — a 9.4-inch (23.8 cm) long specimen of the Berry Cave salamander (Gyrinophilus gulolineatus).
Berry Cave salamanders are known from just ten localities in the Clinch and Tennessee River watersheds in the Appalachians karst region of eastern Tennessee.
The largest previously reported specimen of the species measured 5.4 inches (13.6 cm) snout-vent length.
The new specimen was collected from the type locality of the species — Berry Cave in Roane County.
The salamander measured 5.7 inches (14.5 mm) snout-vent and 9.4 inches (23.8 cm) total length, with a mass of 35 g.
It had some damage to the tail, leading the researchers to believe that it was once nearly 10 inches (25.4 cm) long.
“The record represents the largest individual within the genus Gyrinophilus, the largest body size of any cave-obligate salamander and the largest salamander within the Plethodontidae family in the United States,” said Nicholas Gladstone, a graduate student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The find is making scientists reexamine growth limits of these animals in harsh environments and how hospitable underground environments really are.
“Salamanders are one of only two vertebrate animal groups to have successfully colonized caves. The other is fish,” Gladstone said.
In 2003, the Berry Cave salamander was placed on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Candidate Species List for federal protection.
“This research will hopefully motivate additional conservation efforts for this rare and vulnerable species,” Gladstone said.
The discovery is reported in the journal Subterranean Biology.
N.S. Gladstone et al. 2018. A new maximum body size record for the Berry Cave Salamander (Gyrinophilus gulolineatus) and genus Gyrinophilus (Caudata, Plethodontidae) with a comment on body size in plethodontid salamanders. Subterranean Biology 28: 29-38; doi: 10.3897/subtbiol.28.30506