Long-tailed salamanders are typically yellow, but body color may range from yellow to red. Adults are between 100 and 200 mm long, with the tail making up about 60% of total body length. Long-tailed salamanders have large eyes and a slender body with stout limbs. A key characteristic of long-tailed salamanders is a row of irregularly shaped, dark stripes found on the long, slender tail. Adult bodies have dark dashes or dots and may contain a broad dorsal band. The belly is colored light yellow to cream. Males and females look the same.
There are three recognized subspecies: Eurycea longicauda longicauda (long-tailed salamanders), Eurycea guttolineata (three-lined salamanders), and Eurycea longicauda melanopleura (dark-sided salamanders). Three-lined salamanders are identified by their coloration, which varies between yellow and bronze, as well as the three dark lines that run along the body and tail. Dark-sided salamanders are identified by two dark lines running along the sides of the body and tail with a lighter band running dorsally.
Long-tailed salamander larvae are aquatic and have features missing in terrestrial adults, including branching gills (to breath underwater), slim bodies, and a tail fin. Larvae also differ from adults in that they have a cream colored pattern on their backs. ("Eurycea longicauda (Longtail Salamander)", 2004; "Eurycea longicauda longicauda (Green), Long-tailed salamander - Biodiversity of Great Smoky Mountains National Park", 2007; "LONGTAIL SALAMANDER (Eurycea longicauda)", 2002; "Long-tailed Salamander, Eurycea longicauda longicauda", 2011; Arnold, et al., 2008; Lannoo, 2005; "Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of New Jersey", 2007)
Long-tailed salamanders live in North America and are found only in the United States. They are mainly distributed throughout the Ozark Highlands, Appalachian Highlands, and the Ohio River Valley. Long-tailed salamanders range from southeastern Missouri through extreme southern Illinois, throughout most of Kentucky, central and western Tennessee, extreme northeastern Mississippi, northern Alabama, northern Georgia, extreme southwestern and northwestern North Carolina, western Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, southern New York, and in the north from extreme eastern Illinois, west through southern Indiana and into southern and eastern Ohio. Map (Lannoo, 2005)
Long-tailed salamanders typically inhabit streams, limestone seeps, springs, caves, abandoned mines, wet shale banks, and ponds. Long-tailed salamanders have two life cycles which are each spent in different habitats. Larvae grow in aquatic environments, such as streams, ponds, or cave pools, while adults are typically terrestrial, found underneath rocks, crevices, and stone fragments near the margins of streams. They are found at elevations of 0 to 700 m above sea level. ("Eurycea longicauda (Longtail Salamander)", 2004; "Eurycea longicauda longicauda (Green), Long-tailed salamander - Biodiversity of Great Smoky Mountains National Park", 2007; "LONGTAIL SALAMANDER (Eurycea longicauda)", 2002; "Long-tailed Salamander, Eurycea longicauda longicauda", 2011; Lannoo, 2005; "Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of New Jersey", 2007)
The larval period of long-tailed salamanders is typically 6 months. However, timing may vary among populations. In order to survive, aquatic larvae need shelter and food, which they find in a variety of aquatic invertebrates, including tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans, crustaceans, and snails. If there is not enough food, metamorphosis may be delayed and larvae will not turn into adults until the next year. The metamorphosis size of long-tailed salamanders is 23 to 28 mm snout to vent length but, if overwintering occurs, they can be greater than 50 mm in total length. Like most amphibians, long-tailed salamanders continue to grow throughout their lives. ("Eurycea longicauda longicauda (Green), Long-tailed salamander - Biodiversity of Great Smoky Mountains National Park", 2007; Lannoo, 2005)
The mating system of long-tailed salamanders has not been studied extensively and remains largely unknown. The only known courtship behavior is head-rubbing. (Lannoo, 2005)
Main breeding activity occurs during late fall to early spring. Females lay 60 to 110 eggs in water, attached to the underside of rocks. Eggs hatch after 4 to 12 weeks. Long-tailed salamanders can reproduce at an average age of 2 years old. (Lannoo, 2005)
There is little information on parental investment in long-tailed salamanders. However, like most salamanders, females leave aquatic habitats after laying eggs, so there is little parental involvement after egg-laying.
This species is rarely bred in captivity and there is no information on its lifespan in the wild. Other species in the Plethodontidae family live as much as 5 to 10 years in the wild. ("Eurycea longicauda longicauda (Green), Long-tailed salamander - Biodiversity of Great Smoky Mountains National Park", 2007)
Adults exhibit seasonal patterns in habitat use. For example, during periods of heavy rain, adults migrate uphill. Also, adults are known to migrate into and out of caves and mine shafts. In spring, females migrate to suitable aquatic habitats to lay their eggs. Like most salamanders, long-tailed salamanders are nocturnal and are most active at night. (Lannoo, 2005)
Long-tailed salamanders can cover a considerable distance over a year but their home range size is unclear. This is attributed to the fact that many juveniles and adults spend most of their time underground. (Lannoo, 2005)
Long-tailed salamanders communicate in similar ways to other salamanders of the Plethodontidae family, using pheromones. These chemical signals are very important especially in mating rituals. Courtship rituals occur mainly underwater, and one account reports tactile interactions as well. During mating, salamanders of the Plethodontidae family typically exhibit head-rubbing, which serves a communicative purpose. Long-tailed salamanders have developed senses of smell and sight allowing them the ability to perceive its environment either visually or chemically. (Arnold, et al., 2008; Lannoo, 2005)
Long-tailed salamanders typically eat adult and immature arthropods, worms, and other terrestrial invertebrates. The types of invertebrates preyed on depends on the environment. For example, in New Jersey, spiders, homopterans, beetles, and moths and butterflies are the main diet. However, in one Indiana population, more than 20 types of invertebrates are eaten.
Salamanders obtain water in the food they eat, most invertebrates contain moisture, and by absorbing water through their skin. Long-tailed salamanders need moist environments to absorb water from to avoid dessication. (Lannoo, 2005)
Anti-predator mechanisms have not been studied extensively in this species, but one mechanism has been observed. When threatened, individuals display a defensive posture with an elevated tail, and the tail autotomizes (breaks off) when the salamander is handled. The detached tail will wiggle for some time after it is dropped. This wiggling tail distracts the predator, which allows the salamander to escape. Salamanders can regrow a new tail over time. Also, long-tailed salamanders are quick and able to bolt for cover when threatened. Long-tailed salamanders have coloration that blends in well with the fallen leaves and other debris on the ground where they live. This cryptic coloration helps to camouflage the salamanders and hide from predators. (Lannoo, 2005)
Long-tailed salamanders are predators on both terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates. They are also important competitors in cave environments with other salamanders. Long-tailed salamander larvae appear to be competitive with larval cave salamanders, but they appear to be displaced by several other salamander species. Long-tailed salamanders are eaten by several predator species. (Lannoo, 2005)
There are no known adverse effects of long-tailed salamanders on humans.
Long-tailed salamanders may help in pest control because they feed on various terrestrial invertebrates, but their effect on humans is minimal. (Lannoo, 2005)
Long-tailed salamanders remain locally abundant, but populations have declined due to habitat loss from strip mining, acid drainage from coal mining, and clear cutting of forests. This species has been listed as threatened in both Kansas and New Jersey and is a species of special concern in North Carolina.
In New Jersey, long-tailed salamanders were listed as a threatened species in 1979. This was attributed to the decline of natural habitats and pollution of larval ponds. The New Jersey Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act helped protect long-tailed salamanders in New Jersey by outlawing the development of wetland areas and "buffers." Buffers are protected areas within 150 feet of wetlands.
In Kansas, the long-tailed salamanders are protected by the Kansas Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act. This act requires project developers to obtain a permit from the Environmental Services Section of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks anytime a development project is proposed that will impact the natural habitats of the species. ("Eurycea longicauda (Longtail Salamander)", 2004; "LONGTAIL SALAMANDER (Eurycea longicauda)", 2002; "Long-tailed Salamander, Eurycea longicauda longicauda", 2011; "Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of New Jersey", 2007)
Jonathan Haun (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
State of New Jersey. 2007. Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of New Jersey. Trenton, NJ: Department of Environmental Protection.
2004. "Eurycea longicauda (Longtail Salamander)" (On-line). Accessed March 20, 2010 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/59268/0.
2007. "Eurycea longicauda longicauda (Green), Long-tailed salamander - Biodiversity of Great Smoky Mountains National Park" (On-line). Accessed March 20, 2010 at http://www.dlia.org/atbi/species/Animalia/Chordata/Amphibia/Urodela/Plethodontidae/Eurycea_longicauda.shtml.
2002. "LONGTAIL SALAMANDER (Eurycea longicauda)" (On-line). Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Accessed March 20, 2010 at http://www.kdwp.state.ks.us/news/Other-Services/Threatened-and-Endangered-Species/Threatened-and-Endangered-Species/Species-Information/LONGTAIL-SALAMANDER.
2011. "Long-tailed Salamander, Eurycea longicauda longicauda" (On-line). Accessed March 20, 2010 at http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/ensp/pdf/end-thrtened/lngtlsalamander.pdf.
Arnold, S., K. Kiemnec, H. Godwin. 2008. A Recombinant Courtship Pheromone Affects Sexual Receptivity in a Plethodontid Salamander. Cary, NC: Oxford University Press.
Lannoo, M. 2005. Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.