AMPHIBIA (Amphibians) CAUDATA (Salamanders) PLETHODONTIDAE (Lungless Salamanders)

WESTERN GROTTO SALAMANDER
Eurycea spelaea Stejneger 1892
ū-rĭs-ē-ă — spē-lā-ŭh


Conservation Status:

State: Kansas Endangered Species

Federal: None
NatureServe State: S1 - Critically Imperiled
NatureServe National: N4 - Apparently Secure
NatureServe Global: G4 - Apparently Secure
CITES: None

From Carver Hill Spring, Cherokee County. Image © Travis W. Taggart
A transformed adult Grotto Salamander from Madison County, Arkansas. © Kory Roberts.

Diagnosis:
No transformed adult Grotto Salamanders have been discovered in Kansas, only larvae or larviform adults. The larvae have bushy gills and a moderately high dorsal tail fin. Larvae are lightly pigmented (tan dorsally, often weakly stippled or mottled) and have functional eyes. Hatchlings are 13 to 36 mm snout to vent length (17 to 135 mm total length).
Adults are white, pinkish-white or light brown on the dorsum and venter. The eyes become atrophied and the eyelids fuse at metamorphosis. The eyes remain visible as dark spots under the fused eyelids. Mature males have a slightly swollen upper lip and a pair of papilla-like extensions from the upper lip (cirri). Males also have a mental gland, a raised area on the chin used in courtship.
Adults normally 75-121 mm (3-4¾ inches) in total length. The largest specimen from Kansas is a larva (KU 153036) from Cherokee County with snout-vent length of 42 mm and a total length of 86 mm (3 3/8 inches), collected by Ray E. Ashton on 3 March 1973. The maximum length throughout the range is 5 5/16 inches (135 mm) (Powell et al. 2016).

Distribution:
Grotto Salamander larvae are known only from a few small springs and caves in the Ozark Plateau, along and south of Shoal Creek in extreme southeastern Cherokee County. These salamanders are more often found in caves that harbor bats.
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  • Occurrence Summary:  
  • 95
    Records 
  • 93
    Museum Vouchers 
  • 2
    Other Observations 
Some county occurrences indicated below may be too imprecise to map above.
County Breakdown: County Name (# occurrences):
Cherokee (95);

Natural History:
The larval period may last from 1 to 6+ years depending on locality and conditions. Adults are known to live for at least 12 years in captivity, but their lifespan in the wild is unknown. Transformed adults have never been discovered in Kansas.
Grotto Salamanders are most active during spring and summer months when moisture levels in caves are high, food is abundant, and courtship is taking place. Adults feed on aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates, including flies, mosquito larvae, and beetles. Grotto salamander larvae eat isopods, fly larvae, snails, and bat guano.

Occurrence Activity:
White dates indicate there is at least a single recorded occurrence on that date. The darker blue a date is, the greater the relative number of observations for that date.
Remarks:
Repeated attempts to locate transformed adults over the past 50 years in Schermerhorn Park Cave have been unsuccessful (though Rundquist and Collins (1977) list KU 52241 as an 'adult', and this specimen needs to be reexamined).
Although, well-represented and documented by specimens in the state the status of the Grotto Salamander remains precarious. While it is known from several localities, many of these sites may ultimately be shown to represent the same underground aquifer. When taken together, its dependence on underground springs, small footprint in the state, and obligate aquatic biology, the Grotto Salamander is especially sensitive to water quality degradation due to environmental contamination.
Layher (2002) recommended the down-listing of this species to SINC status at such a time it is known from 20 localities and when 16 of those localities are protected in some manner. He further recommended that upon confirmation of the species continued existence at those sites five years later, it should be dropped from the SINC list.
Phillips et al. (2017) found that E. spelaea (sensu lato) was composed of three different clades across its range in Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri. The Kansas population, as well as other populations from the Middle Arkansas River drainage, were assigned to E. spelaea, while populations to the to the northeast (E. nerea, Bishop 1944)and east (E. braggi, Smith 1968) were elevated.
Phillips et al. (2017) did not provide standard English names for the groups they discovered, however, they did name the groups (Western [= E. spelaea], Northern [= E. nerea], and Southern [= E. braggi]), and I have followed their lead in applying the English name "Western Grotto Salamander" to those populations that occur in Kansas. Another often used English name for E. spelaea is Ozark Blind Salamander. The 'official' standard English name won't be available until the SSAR publishes the next edition of their list (see Crother (ed.) 2017).
Listed as Kansas Endangered species in 1978. A recovery plan exists for this species (Layher 2002).
As defined by Kansas Administrative Regulations, critical habitats include those areas documented as currently supporting self-sustaining population(s) of any threatened or endangered species of wildlife as well as those areas determined by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism to be essential for the conservation of any threatened or endangered species of wildlife.
Currently, the following areas are designated critical for Grotto Salamanders:
All caves and associated spring flows within that portion of Cherokee County lying south and east of a line beginning at the Kansas-Missouri border junction with U.S. Highway 66 at Sec. 13, T34S, T25E, then extending westerly and southerly along U.S. 66 to the Kansas- Oklahoma border at Sec. 14, T35S, R24E.


Bibliography:
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1932 Smith, Hobart M. A report upon amphibians hitherto unknown from Kansas. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 35():93-96
First report of Eurycea spelaea, Eurycea longicauda, Lithobates clamitans, and Lithobates palustris in Kansas from specimens collected in Cherokee County. The subsequent discovery of Lithobates clamitans in Miami County is also reported.
The field studies took place in the spring of 1931 and from 3-5 April 1932 and collections made by various individuals in each expedition.
Of particular note is the statement that "All were collected at various localities about three to five miles north of Baxter Springs near the Spring River. Many specimens from these surveys are labeled (3-5 miles north of Baxter Springs) and without reference to the Spring River, which takes an easterly and then north north easterly course approximately two miles north of Baxter Springs (at Riverton). The stated locality is actually low flat farm ground and pasture along Brush Creek (well outside the Ozark Plateau) and not as Smith describes the site in 1932 (... situated in moderately heavily wooded, hilly region). Subsequent reviewers remarked (among themselves) that perhaps the locality on the labels should have been 'east' instead of 'north', however Smith's op cit. remarks do help in that they place the collections in suitable habitat.
1933 Stejneger, Leonhard and Thomas Barbour. A Checklist of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. 3rd Edition. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. pp.
Reference to Kansas is the listed range of several species.
1933 Brumwell, Malcolm J. Distributional records of the reptilia and amphibians of Kansas. Privately printed, . 22pp.
County dot maps of the Kansas herpetofauna. This work has been attributed to have been written around 1933, but that may be in error.
1933 Smith, Hobart M. The Amphibians of Kansas Thesis. University of Kansas, Lawrence. 383pp.
The first full accounting of the twenty-five species of amphibians known to occur in Kansas. Includes Ambystoma maculatum which is currently not included in the Kansas faunal list.
1934 Smith, Hobart M. The Amphibians of Kansas. American Midland Naturalist 15(4):377-527
The formal publication of Hobart Smith's Master's Thesis (Smith 1933), though there are several updated and additions. In addition to the species accounts for all twenty-five species, the paper includes a history of amphibian biology in Kansas and discussions on taxonomy and physiography. 
1944 Bishop, Sherman C. A new neotenic plethodont salamander, with notes on related species. Copeia 1944(1):1-5
1950 Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Amphibians and Reptiles of Kansas. University of Kansas, Museum of Natural History, Miscellaneous Publication (2):336
The first modern herpetology of Kansas. Includes locality dot maps within individual species accounts. Reports 96 species from Kansas (table and text say 97 on p. 10) and 13 "probable but unverified" species and subspecies.
1953 Schmidt, Karl P. A Check List of North American Amphibians and Reptiles. 6th Edition. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois. 280pp.
Schmidt's first edition of his standardized checklist to North American amphibians and reptiles. Includes several specific references to Kansas in the range descriptions.
1956 Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Amphibians and Reptiles of Kansas. Second edition. University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Miscellaneous Publication (9):1-356
Hobart M. Smith's updated second edition of his first (1950) modern herpetology of Kansas. Includes locality dot maps within individual species accounts. Reports 96 species from Kansas (table says 97 on p. 10; text says 98 on p. 10) and 11 "probable but unverified" species and subspecies. The second edition has updated taxonomy, added Plestiodon laticeps, and removed Eurycea tynerensis.
1965 Brandon, Ronald A. Typhlotriton, T. nereus, T. spealaeus. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles (20):1-2
1968 Smith, C. A new Typhlotriton from Arkansas (Amphibia Caudata). Wasmann Journal of Biology 26():155–159
1970 Brandon, Ronald A. Typhlotriton, T. spelaeus. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles (84):1-2
1970 Brandon, Ronald A. and Jeffery H. Black. The taxonomic status of Typhlotriton braggi (Caudata, Plethodontidae). Copeia 1970(2):388-391
1974 Collins, Joseph T. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Public Education Series (1):283 pp
Joseph T. Collins first Kansas herpetology. <Need to get species total and principal differences with previous 'version' (= Smith 1956)>
1974 Platt, Dwight R., Joseph T. Collins, and Ray E. Ashton, Jr. Rare, endangered and extirpated species in Kansas. II. Amphibians and reptiles. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science 76(3):185-192
The initial initiative to determine population and conservation status of Kansas' amphibians and reptiles based on our understanding at the time. A lot has changed regarding our increased knowledge on all the listed species.
1975 Perry, Janice. A trip to southeastern Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (7):4
1976 Rundquist, Eric M. Field checklist (of) amphibians and reptiles of Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society, Lawrence. pp.
1976 Ashton, Ray E., Jr., Stephen R. Edwards, and George R. Pisani. Endangered and threatened amphibians and reptiles in the United States. Herpetological Circulars (5):65
1977 Rundquist, Eric M. and Joseph T. Collins. The amphibians of Cherokee County, Kansas. Kansas Biological Survey, Lawrence. 12pp.
1977 Perry, Janice. Kansas herps needed. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (18):2-3
List of Kansas amphibians and reptiles desired for the SSAR/HL meeting to be held 7-13 August 1977.
1982 Collins, Joseph T. Report to the Kansas Fish and Game Commission on the status of three amphibians in southeastern Kansas. Kansas Fish and Game Commission, Pratt. 57pp.
1982 Collins, Joseph T. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. 2nd edition. University of Kansas Museum of Natural History Public Education Series (8):
Joseph T. Collins second Kansas herpetology. <Need to get species total and principal differences with previous 'version' (= Collins 1974)>
1983 Ireland, Patrick H. and Ronald Altig. Key to the gilled salamander larvae and larviform adults of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Southwestern Naturalist 28(3):271-274
1984 Altig, Ronald and Patrick H. Ireland. A key to salamander larvae and larviform adults of the United States and Canada. Herpetologica 40(2):212-218
1985 Wood, R. D. Critical habitats for endangered and threatened herps of Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (60):13-15
1986 Terry, P. A. Biological survey of the KS segments of Spring River and Shoal Creek. Part 1. Field Survey. Draft. Kansas Fish and Game, Pratt, Kansas. 67pp.
1986 Beard, James B. Salamanders of Schermerhorn Park Cave, Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (66):7-8
1988 Busby, William H. The Kansas Natural Heritage Program: Taking stock of Kansas' natural heritage. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (71):9-12
1989 Simmons, John E. Endangered and threatened in Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (75):4-5
1989 Capron, Marty. Threatened and endangered: A critique of the Kansas list. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (76):14-15
1990 Collins, Joseph T. Maximum size records for Kansas amphibians and reptiles. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (81):13-17
1991 Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. pp.
1992 Taggart, Travis W. Observations on Kansas amphibians and reptiles Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (88):13-15
1992 Rundquist, Eric M. Kansas endangered, threatened, and SINC species. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (91):
1993 Collins, Joseph T. and Suzanne L. Collins. Amphibians and Reptiles in Kansas. Third Edition. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Lawrence. 397pp.
Joseph T. Collins third Kansas herpetology. <Need to get species total and principal differences with previous 'version' (= Collins 1982)>
1993 Collins, Joseph T. and Rundquist, Eric M. Results of the fifth Kansas herp count held during April-June 1993 . Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (94):7-11
1994 Rundquist, Eric M. 1994 Field Trip Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (95):3-4
1994 Rundquist, Eric M. KHS spring field trip a resounding success Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (97):2
1994 Rundquist, Eric M. Results of the sixth annual KHS herp counts held 1 April-31 May 1994. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (97):5-14
See, 1994 Rundquist, Eric M. Additions and corrections [to the results of the sixth annual KHS herp counts held 1 April-31 May 1994]. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (98):4.
1995 Moriarty, Emily C. and Joseph T. Collins. First known occurrence of amphibian species in Kansas. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (100):28-30
1996 Rundquist, Eric M. Results of the eighth annual KHS herp counts Held 1 April-31 May 1996. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (104):6-17
1996 Rakestraw, J. Spring herp counts: A Kansas tradition. Reptile & Amphibian Magazine (March-April):75-80
1998 Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. 3rd ed, expanded. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. pp.
1999 Rundquist, Eric M. Kansas Herpetological Society herp counts: A 10 year summary and evaluation. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (115):42962
1999 Taggart, Travis W. Cherokee County fall 1999 herp count. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (117):6
Reported Anaxyrus woodhousii was likely A. fowleri.
2000 Taggart, Travis W. Results of the KHS 2000 fall field trip. Kansas Herpetological Society Newsletter (122):6-8
2001 Kirk, Jay D. Reintroduction of the Pickerel Frog (Rana palustris) to Cherokee County, Kansas Thesis. Friends University, Wichita, Kansas. 54pp.
2002 Kingsbury, Bruce and Joanna Gibson. Habitat Management Guidelines for Amphibians and Reptiles of the Midwest. Publication of Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Address not given. 152pp.
2002 Layher, Bill. Recovery plan for four salamander species of Cherokee County, Kansas Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt, Kansas. 18pp.
2004 Bonett, Ronald M. and Paul T. Chippindale. Speciation, phylogeography and evolution of life history and morphology in plethodontid salamanders of the Eurycea multiplicata complex Molecular Ecology 13(5):1189-1203
2006 Taggart, Travis W. Distribution and status of Kansas herpetofauna in need of information. State Wildlife Grant T7. Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, Pratt. vii + 106pp.
2008 Industrial Economics, Incorporated Cherokee County: Restoration Plan / Environmental Assessment. Prepared for: US Department of the Interior, US Fish and Wildlife Service. Industrial Economics, Incorporated, Cambridge, MA. 138pp.
2009 Allison, Nathaniel T. The honorable E. B. Schermerhorn. Journal of Kansas Herpetology (30):10
2010 Collins, Joseph T., Suzanne L. Collins, and Travis W. Taggart. Amphibians, Reptiles, and Turtles of Kansas Eagle Mountain Publishing., Provo, Utah. 400pp.
Joseph T. Collins fourth Kansas herpetology. <Need to get species total and principal differences with previous 'version' (= Collins 1993)>
2012 Rohweder, Megan R. Spatial conservation prioritization of Kansas for terrestrial vertebrates. Thesis. Fort Hays State University, Hays, Kansas. 151pp.
2015 Rohweder, Megan R. Kansas Wildlife Action Plan. Ecological Services Section, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism in cooperation with the Kansas Biological Survey. 176pp.
2016 Powell, Robert, Roger Conant, and Joseph T. Collins. Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston. 494pp.
2017 Crother, Brian I. (ed.). Scientific and Standard English Names of Amphibians and Reptiles of North America North of Mexico, with Comments Regarding Confidence in Our Understanding. 8th Edition. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Herpetological Circular 43. pp.
2017 Taggart, Travis W. and J. Daren Riedle. A Pocket Guide to Kansas Amphibians, Turtles and Lizards. Great Plains Nature Center, Wichita, Kansas. 69pp.
2017 Phillips, John G., Dante B. Fenolio, Sarah L. Emel, and Ronald M. Bonett. Hydrologic and geologic history of the Ozark Plateau drive phylogenomic patterns in a cave-obligate salamander. Journal of Biogeography 2017():1-12
2020 Daniel, Richard E. and Brian S. Edmond. Atlas of Missouri Amphibians and Reptiles for 2019. Privately printed, Columbia, Missouri. 86pp.
2020 Riedle, J. Daren. Revisiting Kansas Herpetological Society field trip and Herp Count data: Distributional patterns and trend data of Kansas amphibians and reptiles. Collinsorum 9(1):7-16
2020 Rader, Jennifer. Southeast Kansas Nature Center. Kansas Wildlife and Parks Magazine July-August():38-41
Account Last Updated:
5/24/2021 1:37:20 PM