Helping Cheat Mountain salamanders in West Virginia’s Canaan Valley

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Cheat mountain salamanders, less than five inches long, can be found during the day under rocks and logs, or in rock crevices below the ground. At night, especially during rainy weather, they forage on the forest floor and occasionally climb trees or plants. Credit: Kent Mason

The Cheat Mountain salamander (Plethodon nettingi), a threatened species that is unique to West Virginia, may have a shot at recovery, thanks to conservation efforts that are iunderway at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

One of two vertebrates native only to the Mountain State, Cheat Mountain salamanders are found only on Cheat Mountain and nearby mountaintops with mixed spruce stands. One of the primary threats to the species is the loss and degradation of its high elevation red spruce and northern hardwood forest habitat. The salamander was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1989 after much of the red spruce forest stands that this species depends on was lost to logging and forest fire.

Check out other stories of endangered plant and animal conservation in the Northeast – We’re sharing them throughout the year!

“Originally, the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge was covered in red spruce and balsam fir,” says Marquette Crockett, a wildlife biologist at the refuge. “After most of the conifer forest was logged, the organic soils burned. This changed the entire ecosystem, and mostly hardwoods came back.”

The four-inch-long salamanders are primarily active on humid evenings, when they search for insects to eat. Despite living for approximately 20 years, the salamanders rarely venture farther than their territories, which are around 48 square feet. Perhaps the biggest threat to Cheat Mountain salamanders…Finish reading this story at our endangered species website!

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