Elusive green salamander is abundant in region, UVa-Wise grad finds


Herpetologists may spend their entire careers studying amphibians and reptiles without encountering Aneides aeneus, an elusive lungless critter known informally as a green salamander. 

Jack Wayland, a 2013 graduate of The University of Virginia’s College at Wise, completed extensive undergraduate research on the green salamander and its habitat in Southwest Virginia. His research could lead to developing ways to better protect the species so it can rebound and get off of several states’ endangered or rare lists.

wayland photo“I was surprised at how abundant they were on High Knob and Flag Rock,” he said during a break from extra classes he is taking to prepare for dental school. “Based on the research, we believe that they like that area because of the rock outcrops and crevices. The species is declining around the nation, but not here. Many herpetologists have the green salamander on their bucket lists.”

The green salamander is known for the greenish markings found on the top of its body. An adult green salamander can reach up to five inches in total body length, and it is mainly found in forested rock outcrops and cliff faces, especially in sandstone and limestone. Its habitat extends from southwestern Pennsylvania along the Appalachian Mountains to northern Alabama and Mississippi.

Wayland, a biology major, first learned of the species while taking classes taught by Professor Wally Smith. He decided to participate in the Fellowship in Natural Science program, which meant finding a solid research project. The green salamander was intriguing.

The Springfield, Va. resident began his research by randomly marking and surveying 100 crevices weekly in 2013 at Norton’s Flag Rock area. He used crevice height, depth and width, distance to trees, canopy cover levels and other factors to model crevice occupancy. He used weather factors and time of day to model probability of detecting the green salamander.

He found that there was an inverse relationship to rain. In other words, the more rain, the less likely it was to see the species. He also discovered that he was more likely to spot a green salamander in internal rock crevices rather than external rock crevices.

“I concluded that the presence and number of the green salamander is underestimated in this part of Southwest Virginia,” Wayland said. “This area could be considered a hot spot for the species, especially in areas of rock formations in places that were not heavily timbered.”

Wayland said the sites found in his research cause him to believe that that the area deserve an increased conservation focus and may drive patterns of dispersal and gene flow throughout the region.