Dunn's salamander (Plethodon dunni)

Close up of a Dunn's salamander on a mossy surface
Dunn's salamander may have a tan, yellow, or green stripe with dark blotches the color of its sides. (William Leonard)
Close up of Dunn's salamander head showing snout features.
Nasolabial grooves (nose to mouth indentations) separates Plethodon species from other types of salamanders. (Lisa Hallock, Washington Dept. of Natural Resources)
Category: Amphibians
Family: Plethodontidae - Lungless salamanders
Ecosystems: Riparian areas
State status: Candidate
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)

Moderate

If you see this species, please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting form. Providing detailed information such as a photo and exact coordinates will improve the confidence and value of this observation to WDFW species conservation and management.

This salamander’s status is of concern in Washington based on the species’ small state range, narrow environmental requirements, a need for retention of large woody debris, and riparian habitats that are not fully protected.

Description and Range

Physical description

This is Washington's largest woodland salamander, reaching sizes of 2.5 to 3 inches from snout to vent and 5.5 to 6 inches total length. It has a dorsal stripe that is tan, yellow, or green with dark blotches the same color as the sides of the salamander's dark (black or brown) body. Coloration in juveniles is similar but the dorsal stripe is distinctly brighter. 

Overhead close up of a Dunn's salamander adult on moist ground.
Dunn’s salamander is the largest of the northwestern Plethodontids (Lungless Salamanders). Lisa Hallock, Washington Dept. of Natural Resources

The presence of nasolabial grooves separates Plethodon species (Lungless Salamanders) from other types of salamanders. These woodland salamanders in Washington are similar in general appearance to each other.

The following traits distinguish the Dunn's salamander: 1) the dorsal stripe of large juveniles and adults does not extend to the tip of the tail and has an uneven, "eroding" edge that is invaded by blotches of the side color, 2) the sides of the body have patchy blotches and flecks similar in color to the dorsal stripe, 3) the costal groove count is usually 15 with 2.5 to 4.0 intercostal folds between adpressed limbs.

Contrary to the common name, the western red-backed salamander (Plethodon vehiculum) often has a yellow or tan dorsal stripe. In the Willapa Hills, it is common to find individuals with black pigment invading the dorsal (topside) stripe (melanism) resulting in a dorsal stripe that may be absent, fragmented, and/or does not extend to the tip of the tail. Unlike the Dunn's salamander, however, western red-backed salamanders do not have blotches and flecks of the stripe color on the sides of the body.

The long-toed salamander has a similar color pattern, but lacks the nasolabial grooves unique to Lungless Salamanders, has a rounded snout and the fourth hind toes are noticeably longer than the rest of the toes.

Eggs

Eggs are laid in clusters (four to fifteen) on dry land within moist areas of cover. There is no free-living larval stage. Hatchlings emerge as juvenile salamanders.

For more details about Dunn’s salamander, see the Washington Herp Atlas.

Ecology and life history

Dunn’s salamanders live in the shaded rocky edges of highly humid forested streams and moist talus (rock fragment piles). They prefer areas that are permanently moist but not in flowing water. Adults often hide under rocks, in splash zones near streams and occasionally under woody debris. This species has also been found upslope, away from stream channels. They may wander on the forest floor during rainy nights in the wet season, seeking cover in moist microhabitats such as forest duff or downed wood during the day.

All life stages are terrestrial. They require moist conditions and, therefore, most surface activity takes place in the spring and fall when temperatures are above freezing.

Dunn's salamanders lay their eggs in clusters on dry land within moist areas of cover such as in rotted logs or in crevices within wet, rocky areas. One nest was found in a decayed log next to a stream, with the female curled around nine eggs. Hatchlings emerge as juvenile salamanders.

Geographic range

This species is relatively rare in Washington. It occurs only in the Willapa Hills of the Olympic Physiographic Province. The range extends north to the Chehalis River and east to the Cowlitz River. This is the northern extreme of this species' range.

This map from the Washington Herp Atlas illustrates the known distribution of the Dunn’s salamander in Washington as of 2016. 

Dunn's salamander distribution map of Washington as of 2016:detections in Grays Harbor, Pacfic, Wahkikum, Cowltiz counties
Washington Herp Atlas (2017)

For a range-wide map and conservation status of this species, check out NatureServe Explorer.

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change

Low-
Moderate

Dunn's salamander is surface active a temperatures higher than its co-occurring lungless salamander congeners and its distribution going no further north than the Willapa Hills ecoregion partly reflects that. Few nest sites have been described, but the few found are concealed, so it likely that the few found represent the most accessible portion of typical nesting locations.

Confidence: Low

Exposure to climate change

Moderate

  • Increased temperatures
  • Changes in precipitation
  • Reduced snowpack
  • Earlier snowmelt See comment on snowpack issue it adjacent cell.
Confidence: Moderate

Regulations

Licenses and permits

Be advised that collection of this species is only permitted under a WDFW Scientific Collection Permit for research and educational activities.

Conservation

This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.
This species is identified as a Priority Species under WDFW's Priority Habitat and Species Program. Priority species require protective measures for their survival due to their population status, sensitivity to habitat alteration, and/or recreational, commercial, or tribal importance. The PHS program is the agency's main means of sharing fish and wildlife information with local governments, landowners, and others who use it to protect priority habitats for land use planning.

Conservation Threats and Actions Needed

  • Resource information collection needs
    • Threat: Lack of information on status and distribution.
    • Action Needed: Continue research, surveys and monitoring to understand species distribution and status.
  • Fish and wildlife habitat loss and degradation
    • Threat: Loss of suitable habitat. This species is closely associated with cool forested streams and is dependent on specific microhabitat features.
    • Action Needed: Prevent habitat modification at occupied sites. 
  • Climate change and severe weather
    • Threat: Loss of suitable habitat. This species is closely associated with cool, forested streams and is dependent on specific microhabitat features.
    • Action Needed: Minimize habitat fragmentation and maintain robust populations across landscape.

See the Climate vulnerability section for more information about threats posed by climate change to this species.

Resources

References

Brodie, E. D. 1970. Western salamanders of the genus Plethodon: systematics and geographic variation. Herpetologica 26(4): 468-516.

Jones, L. L. C., W. P. Leonard, and D. H. Olson, editors. 2005. Amphibians of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle, Washington. xii + 227pp.

Leonard, W. P., H. A. Brown, L. L. C. Jones, K. R. McAllister and R. M. Storm. 1993. Amphibians of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society The Trailside Series, Seattle, Washington. 169 pp.

Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie, Jr., and R.M. Storm. 1983. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. University of Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho. 332 pp.

Personal communications

Marc Hayes, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia, Washington.

WDFW publications

PHS Program

WDFW educational resources

Other resources