Stream Salamanders are on the move this time of year and we need help finding out if they still live here. Please use this summary the Tennessee Natural Heritage Program, Department of Environment and Conservation provided for guidance identifying Streamside Salamanders (adult) and its winter-breeding habitat:
Because of the sensitive nature of this species and its habitat, the Richland Creek Watershed Alliance asks only that citizens become aware of the Streamside Salamander and its habitat requirements, and report back potential observations of adults and winter survey sites. Photographs are welcomed! We do not encourage wanton examination of sites for eggs, for fear that rocks utilized for breeding may not be returned to their normal resting position. Ambystoma barbouri is protected as a “Deemed in Need of Management” species by the TWRA, and specific permissions are required to conduct research.
The distinctive gray and black speckled appearance of A. barbouri, coupled with its timely arrival at breeding sites, provides for reasonably straightforward confirmation of this species.
The Streamside Salamander (Ambystoma barbouri) is a winter-breeding species once considered abundant in the Green Hills area of Nashville. In 1965, a Belmont College researcher documented a “fair sized colony of Ambystoma [barbouri], including adults, eggs, and larvae” from “an intermittent stream in a bare vacant lot” in Green Hills, and observed five more “rather large colonies” from “similar habitats…spread geographically over many miles…” Although six populations were documented, the species was seemingly so plentiful that the author did not report exact locations. A 1967 Austin Peay State University collection from Hillsboro High School suggests that at least one population was present in an unnamed tributary to Sugartree Creek at that time.
No eggs, larvae, or adults have been documented in Green Hills since, despite repeated survey attempts by several researchers.
Streamside Salamanders are unique to Tennessee ambystomatids (the mole salamanders), and are considered genetically distinct from more northerly populations. Though all but hidden for most of the year, they come to winter ephemeral channels (in general) to breed between mid-December and mid-March. And although they will utilize streams that flow year-round, they especially prefer small, bedrock-bottomed streams with no large fish predators (such as sunfish). They lay very recognizable black eggs under slab rock resting on bedrock, and may remain with the eggs for a short period. Many of the best breeding sites are bone-dry in summer, but have gentle flows from late fall until early spring.
The former Green Hills populations may have been in the Richland Creek or Browns Creek watersheds, or both. Suitable habitats today should include headwater streams with minimal gradient and natural, unembedded rock cover. Rediscovery of this species in greater Green Hills would represent a noteworthy find, as at present only one marginally Davidson County occurrence is known.
David Ian Withers | Zoologist
Tennessee Natural Heritage Program, Division of Natural Areas, Department of Environment and Conservation, William R. Snodgrass TN Tower, 2nd Floor 312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue, Nashville, TN 37243 p. 615-532-0441 c. 615-289-3520