Plethodon electromorphus - Highton, 1999
Northern Ravine Salamander
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Plethodon electromorphus Highton, 1999 (TSN 668319)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.104445
Element Code: AAAAD12390
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Amphibians - Salamanders
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Amphibia Caudata Plethodontidae Plethodon
Genus Size: D - Medium to large genus (21+ species)
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Highton, R. 1999a. Geographic protein variation and speciation in the salamanders of the Plethodon cinereus group with the description of two new species. Herpetologica 55:43-90.
Concept Reference Code: A99HIG01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Plethodon electromorphus
Taxonomic Comments: This salamander was included in P. cinereus until 1938, when it became part of the newly described species P. richmondi. Highton (1999) described Plethodon electromorphus as distinct from Plethodon richmondi on the basis of protein characteristics detectable by eletrophoresis; P. electromorphus and P. richmondi do not share common alleles at one of 24 genetic loci and have a fixed difference at another locus in all but one population (Highton 1999). These two salamanders hybridize in a narrow zone of contact, with low introgression (Highton 1999). Plethodon richmondi and P. cinereus hybridize on Iron and Holston Mountain, Tennessee (Thurow 1969). Some taxonomists would regard P. electromorphus as questionably valid as a species distinct from P. richmondi.

Mahoney (2001) used mtDNA data to examine phylogenetic relationships of western and eastern Plethodon and Aneides. She found strong support for eastern Plethodon as a clade, but monophyly of Aneides was only weakly supported in some analyses, though "the monophyly of this clade is not in doubt." Analyses indicated that Plethodon stormi and P. elongatus are clearly sister taxa, and P. dunni and P. vehiculum also are well-supported sister taxa. Plethodon larselli and P. vandykei appear to be closely related, whereas P. neomexicanus did not group with any other lineage. All analyses yielded a paraphyletic Plethodon but constraint analyses did not allow rejection of a monophyletic Plethodon. Mahoney recommended continued recognition of Aneides as a valid genus and adoption of the metataxon designation for Plethodon*, indicating this status with an asterisk. (A metataxon is a group of lineages for which neither monophyly nor paraphyly can be demonstrated.)
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 27Mar2002
Global Status Last Changed: 01Nov2001
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Common and widely distributed in small range in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (28Jan2000)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Indiana (S4), Kentucky (S4), Ohio (SNR), Pennsylvania (S3), West Virginia (S5)

Other Statuses

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 20,000-200,000 square km (about 8000-80,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Southeastern Indiana, Ohio (except northwestern part of the state), northern Kentucky, southwestern Pennsylvania, and northwestern West Virginia (Highton 1999, Regester 2000).

Number of Occurrences:  
Number of Occurrences Comments: Represented by many and/or large occurrences throughout most of the range; well over 100 widely distributed collection sites (e.g., Pfingsten and Downs 1989, Regester 2000).

Population Size: 10,000 - 1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Clearly more than 10,000 individuals.

Short-term Trend Comments: Trend is uncertain but probably stable.

Long-term Trend: Decline of <50% to Relatively Stable
Long-term Trend Comments: Likely relatively stable in extent of occurrence, unknown trend in population size, area of occurrence, and number/condition of occurrences.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Moderate to broad.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: (20,000-200,000 square km (about 8000-80,000 square miles)) Southeastern Indiana, Ohio (except northwestern part of the state), northern Kentucky, southwestern Pennsylvania, and northwestern West Virginia (Highton 1999, Regester 2000).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: endemic to a single nation

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States IN, KY, OH, PA, WV

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at

Range Map Compilers: IUCN, Conservation International, NatureServe, and collaborators, 2004

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
IN Dearborn (18029)*, Fayette (18041)*, Henry (18065), Jefferson (18077)*, Ohio (18115)*, Switzerland (18155)*
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
05 Whitewater (05080003)+*, Middle Ohio-Laughery (05090203)+*, Upper White (05120201)+, Silver-Little Kentucky (05140101)+*
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A small salamander.
Reproduction Comments: Lays cluster of about 6 eggs in spring. Larval stage passed in egg. Hatching occurs in August-September.
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Palustrine Habitat(s): Riparian
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Bare rock/talus/scree, Forest - Hardwood, Woodland - Hardwood
Special Habitat Factors: Burrowing in or using soil, Fallen log/debris
Habitat Comments: Terrestrial. Found under logs, stumps, rocks, or leaf litter on moist wooded slopes of valleys and ravines; high densities on wooded talus; sometimes along stream margins; rarely on dry ridge crests, hilltops, or valley floors (Regester 2000). Generally underground in mid-winter and summer. Lays eggs under rocks or in underground cavity.
Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: Eats various small terrestrial invertebrates.
Adult Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates, Nocturnal
Immature Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates, Nocturnal
Phenology Comments: Most active in spring and fall.
Length: 14 centimeters
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Terrestrial Plethodontid Salamanders

Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including eggs) in or near appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Separation Barriers: Busy highway, especially with high traffic volume at night; major river or lake; other totally inappropriate habitat that the salamanders cannot traverse.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 1 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 3 km
Separation Justification: These salamanders rarely successfully cross roadways that have heavy traffic volume at night, when most movements occur. Rivers and lakes pose formidable impediments to movement and generally function as barriers, with the effect increasing with river and lake size. Treatment of these as barriers or unsuitable habitat is a subjective determination.

Compared to larger ambystomatid salamanders, the movements of plethodontids are poorly documented, but it is clear that home ranges tend to be very small (e.g., Marvin 2001), on the order of a few meters to a few dozen meters in diameter. For example, Welsh and Lind (1992) found that over six months, 66% of Plethodon elongatus males and 80% of females recaptured were in the same 7.5 x 7.5 m grid, and the maximum distance moved was 36.2 m. D. Clayton (pers. comm 1998) estimated that average home ranges may be as small as one square meter. Yet, on occasion, dispersing plethodontids likely travel at least several hundred meters. The separation distance for unsuitable habitat reflects the nominal minimum value of 1 km. The separation distance for suitable habitat reflects the limited movements of these salamanders, tempered by their tendency to occur throughout patches of suitable habitat and the likely low probability that two locations separated by a gap of less than a few kilometers of suitable habitat would represent independent occurrences over the long term.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .1 km
Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 27Mar2002
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 13Dec2000
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

  • Barbour, R. W. 1971. Amphibians and reptiles of Kentucky. Univ. Press of Kentucky, Lexington. x + 334 pp.

  • Behler, J. L., and F. W. King. 1979. The Audubon Society field guide to North American reptiles and amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 719 pp.

  • Blackburn, L., P. Nanjappa, and M. J. Lannoo. 2001. An Atlas of the Distribution of U.S. Amphibians. Copyright, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA.

  • Green, N. B., and T. K. Pauley. 1987. Amphibians and reptiles in West Virginia. University of Pittsburg Press, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. xi + 241 pp.

  • Highton, R. 1999a. Geographic protein variation and speciation in the salamanders of the Plethodon cinereus group with the description of two new species. Herpetologica 55:43-90.

  • Highton, R. 1999b. Hybridization in the contact zone between Plethodon richmondi and Plethodon electromorphus in northern Kentucky. Herpetologica 55:91-105.

  • Mahoney, M. J. 2001. Molecular systematics of Plethodon and Aneides (Caudata: Plethodontini): phylogenetic analysis of an old and rapid radiation. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 18:174-188.

  • Petranka, J. W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

  • Regester, K.J. 2000. Plethodon electromorphus. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles. 706:1-3.

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