Ambystoma cingulatum - Cope, 1867 [1868]
Frosted Flatwoods Salamander
Other English Common Names: Flatwoods Salamander, frosted flatwoods salamander
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Ambystoma cingulatum Cope, 1868 (TSN 173596)
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.802301
Element Code: AAAAA01030
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Amphibians - Salamanders
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Amphibia Caudata Ambystomatidae Ambystoma
Genus Size: D - Medium to large genus (21+ species)
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Pauly, G. B., O. Piskurek, and H. B. Shaffer. 2007. Phylogeographic concordance in the southeastern United States: the flatwoods salamander, Ambystoma cingulatum, as a test case. Molecular Ecology 16:415-429. [Note: Two errors were inadvertently introduced into the paragraph on pages 424-425. The common names attributed to each flatwoods salamander species are reversed. Similarly, the previously published color pattern descriptions are incorrectly attributed to each species.]
Concept Reference Code: A07PAU01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Ambystoma cingulatum
Taxonomic Comments: Based on patterns of genetic and morphological variation, Pauly et al. (2007) concluded that Ambystoma cingulatum should be split into two species, A. bishopi west of the Apalachicola-Flint rivers and A. cingulatum east of those rivers.

Based on mtDNA evidence, A. cingulatum (sensu stricto) inhabiting the eastern Gulf Coastal Plain and the Atlantic Coastal Plain in northern Florida are distinct lineages; the Suwannee River and a large distributional gap separate them (Pauly et al. 2007). Further data are needed to determine whether these two lineages warrant recognition as different species (Pauly et al. 2007).
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G2
Global Status Last Reviewed: 11Feb2014
Global Status Last Changed: 23Apr2007
Rounded Global Status: G2 - Imperiled
Reasons: Endemic to a small portion of the southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain; typically collected in low numbers; few recent collections. Trend data indicate a loss of a large majority of historical local breeding populations, with only two relatively good populations remaining (Apalachicola National Forest and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, both in Florida Panhandle). Adult and larval habitats continue to be threatened by conversion to other uses.
Nation: United States
National Status: N2 (23Apr2007)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Florida (S2), Georgia (S1), South Carolina (S1)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LT: Listed threatened (01Apr1999)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R4 - Southeast
IUCN Red List Category: VU - Vulnerable

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 5000-20,000 square km (about 2000-8000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Range includes the lower southeastern Coastal Plain of the United States from southern South Carolina southward to Marion County (north-central Florida) and disjunctly westward through southern Georgia (Jensen et al. 2008) and northern Florida to the Apalachicola and Flint rivers (mid-Panhandle of Florida and northward) (Pauly et al. 2007).

Area of Occupancy: 126-2,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Based on 37 occurrences, and assuming 4 square kilometers per occurrence (actual value is unknown), area of occupancy would be 148 square kilometers; area of occupancy likely is larger than this.

Number of Occurrences: 21 - 80
Number of Occurrences Comments: Surveys completed since 1990 indicate that 37 populations are known from across the historical range, with 6 in Georgia, 3 in South Carolina, and the remainder in Florida (USFWS 2005).

Population Size: 2500 - 100,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Secretive habits of adults make population estimates difficult. Total adult population size likely is at least several thousand, but actual number is unknown.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Unknown

Overall Threat Impact: Medium
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Potential threats include conversion of pine flatwoods habitat for agriculture, silviculture, or commercial/residential development; drainage or enlargement (with subsequent introduction of predatory fishes) of breeding ponds; habitat alteration resulting from suppression of fire; mortality and collecting losses associated with crayfish harvest; and highway mortality during migration.

The principal threat is habitat destruction as a result of agriculture, silviculture, and residential and commercial development. Modern silvicultural methods rely on altering soil hydrology, suppressing fire, shortening timber rotations, and replacing widely-spaced longleaf pine with dense plantations of slash pine. Loss of groundcover vegetation due to mechanical soil preparation, fire suppression, and shading by overstories of slash pine have been implicated in the decline in north Florida (Means et al. 1994, 1996).

Larvae are threatened in some wetlands by the harvest of crayfish as bait. Bait harvesters drag large hardware cloth buckets through inundated vegetation, dump the contents of the bucket on the ground, and then sort out the crayfish. Flatwoods salamander larvae taken in this manner are left to die or are collected as bait (J. Palis, pers. obs.).

The effect of herbicide or fertilization application on flatwoods salamanders is unknown. However, fertilization of plantations often results in eutrophication of wetlands, promoting algal blooms. Larval flatwoods salamanders have not been observed in algal-choked wetlands (J. Palis, pers. obs.).

Ditching or berming of small, isolated pond-cypress wetlands, a common practice when establishing slash pine plantations on mesic sites, results in lowered water levels and shortened hydroperiods (Marois and Ewel 1983). These hydrologic perturbations could prevent successful flatwoods salamander reproduction by preventing egg inundation or stranding larvae before they are capable of metamorphosis. Altered hydrology, in association with fire exclusion, results in a shift in dominance from pond-cypress to broad-leaved hardwoods that reduce herbaceous groundcover vegetation through shading (Marois and Ewel 1983). This may be detrimental since A. cingulatum larvae take shelter in herbaceous vegetation during the day.

Ephemeral pond-cypress depressions are sometimes converted into permanent water bodies, rendering them unsuitable for flatwoods salamander reproduction (J. Palis, pers. obs.).

A constant winter-burn fire plan could be detrimental (Ashton 1992).

See USFWS (1999) for additional information.

Short-term Trend: Decline of <30% to relatively stable
Short-term Trend Comments: Currently, the species presumably is declining in concert with continued loss of remaining intact pine flatwoods community (particularly degradation of groundcover). The rate of decline is unknown.

Long-term Trend: Decline of 70-90%
Long-term Trend Comments: During extensive surveys of historical (pre-1990) breeding ponds, researchers recorded the species at only a small minority of formerly inhabited sites. The salamander has lost much of its former habitat in Georgia and South Carolina.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements common.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Re-sample all known occurrences; continue to survey for additional occurrences (particularly within managed areas). Monitor sample of varied occurrences to determine and track trends.

Protection Needs: Maintain federal threatened species status. Maintain ecological integrity of managed areas from which species is known. Protect populations on private lands by conservation agreements or land purchases.

Global Range: (5000-20,000 square km (about 2000-8000 square miles)) Range includes the lower southeastern Coastal Plain of the United States from southern South Carolina southward to Marion County (north-central Florida) and disjunctly westward through southern Georgia (Jensen et al. 2008) and northern Florida to the Apalachicola and Flint rivers (mid-Panhandle of Florida and northward) (Pauly et al. 2007).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: endemic to a single nation

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States FL, GA, SC

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
FL Alachua (12001)*, Baker (12003), Bradford (12007), Duval (12031), Franklin (12037), Jefferson (12065), Liberty (12077), Marion (12083)*, Wakulla (12129)
GA Ben Hill (13017)*, Berrien (13019)*, Brooks (13027)*, Bryan (13029), Burke (13033)*, Charlton (13049)*, Chatham (13051)*, Effingham (13103)*, Emanuel (13107)*, Evans (13109), Irwin (13155)*, Jeff Davis (13161)*, Lanier (13173)*, Lee (13177)*, Liberty (13179), Long (13183)*, Lowndes (13185)*, Mcintosh (13191), Screven (13251)*, Ware (13299)*, Worth (13321)*
SC Berkeley (45015), Charleston (45019)*, Jasper (45053)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
03 Santee (03050112)+*, Cooper (03050201)+, Brier (03060108)+*, Lower Savannah (03060109)+, Calibogue Sound-Wright River (03060110)+, Upper Ogeechee (03060201)+*, Lower Ogeechee (03060202)+*, Canoochee (03060203)+, Ogeechee Coastal (03060204)+, Lower Ocmulgee (03070104)+*, Altamaha (03070106)+, Satilla (03070201)+*, Little Satilla (03070202)+*, St. Marys (03070204)+, Oklawaha (03080102)+*, Lower St. Johns (03080103)+, Upper Suwannee (03110201)+*, Alapaha (03110202)+*, withlacoochee (03110203)+*, Little (03110204)+*, Santa Fe (03110206)+, Apalachee Bay-St. Marks (03120001)+, Lower Ochlockonee (03120003)+*, Middle Flint (03130006)+*, Apalachicola (03130011)+, New (03130013)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A salamander in which adult total length generally is about 9-13 cm.
General Description: The following information pertains to the Ambystoma cingulatum/bishopi complex as a whole.

A black salamander with variable gray or grayish dorsal markings that may form a "frosted" or netlike pattern or narrow light rings. Belly is black with scattered or many small gray spots. Total length 9-13 cm (Conant and Collins 1991). Larvae are long and slender, with very slender legs and fragile tail fins; body is black to brown with white to yellow stripes (Ashton 1992).

A moderately-sized (up to 76 mm snout-vent length, 135 mm total length; Palis unpubl. data), slender salamander with a relatively small, pointed head and stout tail, weighing from 4.5 - 10.5 grams (adult male and gravid female, respectively (Palis unpubl. data)). The body is black to chocolate-black with fine, irregular, light gray lines that form a net-like or cross-banded pattern across the back. In some individuals the gray pigment is widely scattered and "lichen-like." Melanistic, uniformly black individuals are occasionally encountered (Carr 1940). The belly is black to chocolate-black with a scattering of gray spots or flecks.

The broad-headed, boldly striped pond-type larva can attain a snout-vent length of 47 mm and total length of 96 mm before metamorphosis (Palis unpubl. data). The striping pattern, from mid-dorsum down the sides, is as follows: pale tan mid-dorsal stripe, grayish-black dorsolateral stripe, pale cream mid-lateral stripe, blue-black lateral stripe, and pale yellow ventrolateral stripe. A black stripe extends from the snout, through the eyes, to the base of the gills. A second dark stripe, extending along the upper jaw, is typically present, as well.

Although sexual dimorphism is not pronounced, males can be distinguished from females during the breeding season by their slightly swollen cloaca (pers. obs.). In addition, mature gravid females are heavier and more robust than males at this time (pers. obs.).

Diagnostic Characteristics: Adults may be confused with the slimy salamander (Plethodon grobmani), small-mouthed salamander (Ambystoma texanum), or Mabee's salamander (Ambystoma mabeei). Slimy salamanders are readily distinguished by the presence of a small groove (nasolabial groove) from the nostril to upper lip (absent in all Ambystoma). Ambystoma texanum (smallmouth salamander) overlaps the range of Ambystoma cingulatum in extreme southwestern Alabama. Small-mouthed salamanders have a very short, rounded snout and, in Alabama, are brown or dark gray with lichen-like light blotches (Mount 1975). In South Carolina, Ambystoma cingulatum has been observed breeding in the same wetland as Ambystoma mabeei (Anderson and Williamson 1976). The body of Mabee's salamander is dark brown or black with pale specks that are concentrated along the sides.

Although the flatwoods salamander larval pattern is distinctive, two other Ambystoma larvae may appear similar to the untrained eye. Like Ambystoma cingulatum, Ambystoma mabeei larvae have a light mid-lateral stripe between two dark lateral stripes. However, unlike the continuous lateral stripes of Ambystoma cingulatum, those of Ambystoma mabeei are broken into blotches (Hardy and Olmon 1974). In addition, the stripe extending from the snout to the gills in Ambystoma mabeei is diffuse and indistinct, and the upper lip stripe is replaced by a series of spots (Hardy and Olmon 1974). Larval mole salamanders (Ambystoma talpoideum) may have an indistinct, light mid-lateral stripe, but are readily distinguished from Ambystoma cingulatum larvae by the presence of a dark mid-ventral stripe and dark dorsal crossbands (pers. obs.). The light mid-lateral stripe of larval Ambystoma cingulatum is retained by metamorphs through their first year (pers. obs.). It is best observed by shining a bright light through the body.

Reproduction Comments: The following information pertains to the Ambystoma cingulatum/bishopi complex as a whole.

Movements to breeding ponds occur usually between early October and January during rainy evenings when the barometric pressure is falling (Ashton 1992). In Florida, salamanders that entered and exited the breeding site only once remained in the basin an average of 38 days (range 3-117 days) (Palis 1997). Individual females lay up to 225 eggs (Ashton 1992) singly or in small clusters, with larger individuals producing more eggs than smaller ones (Anderson and Williamson 1976). Eggs are laid terrestrially before depressions fill with water; The eggs develop to hatching size within three weeks, but do not hatch until inundated (Anderson and Williamson 1976). The larval period lasts three to four months (11-18 weeks) (Means 1986, Palis and Jensen 1995). Metamorphs emigrate from their natal ponds during the months of March and April (J. Palis, pers. obs.). In captivity, adult size can be reached within one year (Means 1972). Preliminary field data, however, suggest that full size is not attained until the third or fourth year in the wild (Palis, unpubl. data). Although not much bigger than metamorphs, males attain sexual maturity in their first year (Palis 1997). Females, however, do not sexually mature until at least two years old (Palis and Jensen 1995, Palis 1997). Generation length is presumed to be about 8 years.

Habitat Type: Freshwater
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: Salamanders of the Ambystoma cingulatum/bishopi complex migrate up to hundreds of meters between breeding and nonbreeding habitats; Ashton (1992) mentioned movements of over 1,700 meters. Migrations to breeding sites occur at night in conjunction with rains and passing cold fronts from mid-fall through early winter (Means 1972, Anderson and Williamson 1976; Palis, unpubl. data).
Lacustrine Habitat(s): Shallow water
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Forest - Conifer, Forest/Woodland, Savanna, Woodland - Conifer
Special Habitat Factors: Benthic, Burrowing in or using soil, Fallen log/debris
Habitat Comments: The following information pertains to the Ambystoma cingulatum/bishopi complex as a whole. Post-larval individuals inhabit mesic longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)-wiregrass (Aristida stricta) flatwoods and savannas. The terrestrial habitat is best described as a topographically flat or slightly rolling wiregrass-dominated grassland having little to no midstory and an open overstory of widely scattered longleaf pine. Low-growing shrubs, such as saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), gallberry (Ilex glabra) and blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), co-exist with grasses and forbs in the groundcover. Groundcover plant diversity is usually very high. The underlying soil is typically poorly drained sand that becomes seasonally inundated.

Slash pine flatwoods is often cited as the preferred terrestrial habitat of the flatwoods salamander (e.g., Conant and Collins 1991). This may be the result of an error made by Martof (1968) in which he referred to longleaf pine as slash pine (Pinus elliottii). In addition, slash pine now dominates or co-occurs with longleaf pine in many pine flatwoods communities as a result of fire suppression and preferential harvest of longleaf pine (Avers and Bracy 1975). Historically, however, fire-tolerant longleaf pine dominated the flatwoods, whereas slash pine was confined principally to wetlands (Harper 1914, Avers and Bracy 1975). Post-larval individuals are fossorial (live underground) and occupy burrows (Goin 1950, Neill 1951, Mount 1975, Ashton 1992). Presumably, they remain underground during the lightning-season (May through September). Adults are rarely encountered under cover objects at or near breeding sites (J. Palis, pers. obs.).

Breeding occurs in acidic (pH 3.6-5.6 (Palis, unpubl. data)), tannin-stained ephemeral wetlands (swamps or graminoid-dominated depressions) that range in size from 0.02 to 9.5 ha, and are usually not more than 0.5 m deep (Palis, unpubl. data). The overstory is typically dominated by pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica var. biflora) and slash pine, but can also include red maple (Acer rubrum), sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), and loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus). Canopy coverage ranges from near zero to almost 100% (Palis, unpubl. data). The midstory, which is often very dense, is most often composed of young of the aforementioned species, myrtle-leaved holly (Ilex myrtifolia), Chapman's St. John's-wort (Hypericum chapmanii), sandweed (Hypericum fasciculatum), titi (Cyrilla racemiflora), storax (Styrax americana), popash (Fraxinus caroliniana), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), fetterbush (Lyonia lucida), vine-wicky (Pieris phillyreifolia), and bamboo-vine (Smilax laurifolia). Depending on closure of the canopy and midstory, the herbaceous groundcover of breeding sites can range from about 5% to nearly 100% (Palis, unpubl. data). The groundcover is dominated by graminaceous species, including beakrushes (Rhynchospora spp.), sedges (Carex spp.), panic grasses (Panicum spp.), bluestems (Andropogon spp.), jointtails (Manisurus spp.), three-awned grass (Aristida affinis), plumegrass (Erianthus giganteus), nutrush (Sclera baldwinii) and yellow-eyed grasses (Xyris spp.). The floor of breeding sites is riddled with the burrows of crayfish (genus Procambarus). Breeding sites are typically encircled by a wiregrass-dominated graminaceous ecotone. Breeding sites can include roadside ditches (Anderson and Williamson 1976; Palis, pers. obs.) and borrow pits (D. Stevenson, pers. comm.). Breeding sites often harbor fishes, the most typical species include pygmy sunfishes (Elassoma spp.), mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrookii), and banded sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus) (Palis, unpubl. data). Favorable breeding habitat lacks large predatory fishes.

Before breeding sites fill with water, eggs are deposited singly or in small groups on the ground beneath leaf litter, under logs and Sphagnum mats, at the base of grasses, shrubs or trees, or at the entrance to crayfish burrows (Anderson and Williamson 1976). In wetlands that fill incrementally, eggs are deposited amid graminaceous vegetation at the edge (J. Palis, pers. obs.). Egg deposition in shallow water also has been reported (Ashton 1992). Larvae hide amid inundated graminaceous vegetation by day, but will enter the water column at night (J. Palis, pers. obs.).

Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: Goin (1950) found earthworm remains in the stomachs of adults. Larvae feed primarily on small crustaceans (Whiles et al. 2004).
Adult Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates, Nocturnal
Immature Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates, Nocturnal
Phenology Comments: Seldom seen except during the breeding season. Small numbers of post-larval salamanders continue to be active on the surface during the winter months (Palis, unpubl. data).
Colonial Breeder: Y
Length: 13 centimeters
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Activities aimed at restoring/maintaining the ecological integrity of mesic longleaf pine-wiregrass flatwoods and associated ephemeral wetlands are needed to preserve extant populations of flatwoods salamanders.
Restoration Potential: Recovery is directly linked with the ability to preserve existing habitat and restore degraded habitat. Given the drastic decline in the extent of longleaf pine-dominated communities (Ware et al. 1993), elevation of flatwoods salamander populations above present levels is unlikely. Restoration of degraded mesic, seasonally inundated longleaf pine flatwoods and savannas has not been attempted, and may only be feasible in cases where soil disturbance is minimal. The effectiveness of reintroduction into areas where extirpated is unknown.
Preserve Selection & Design Considerations: High quality occurrences include several wetlands within a matrix of pine flatwoods and savanna. Based on the maximum distance adults are known to travel between reproductive and nonreproductive habitat (1.7 km), each breeding site should be surrounded by at least 10 sq km of terrestrial habitat. Longterm perpetuation of a viable population of flatwoods salamanders will presumably require protection of a larger area of terrestrial habitat encompassing a suite of alternative breeding sites (Travis 1994). A suite of wetlands guards against extirpation at any one breeding site, since animals can immigrate from nearby wetlands. The minimum viable population size needed to sustain a population longterm is not known. Preliminary drift fence data at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, suggests that breeding population sizes are low relative to other Ambystoma (Palis, unpubl. data). However, this may be a site specific observation as larger breeding migrations have been observed elsewhere in the range (R. Moulis, pers. comm.). Presently, there is no method of assessing an occurrence based on the number of animals captured at a drift fence or the number of larvae inhabiting a breeding site.
Management Requirements: Maintenance of intact mesic longleaf pine-wiregrass flatwoods and ephemeral wetlands by mimicking natural forces, such as lightning-season fire, is the most appropriate form of management. On sites where timber extraction is practiced, several precautions should be taken to limit the impact to flatwoods salamanders. Tree harvest should be restricted to dry periods to prevent soil compaction and rutting. Clearcutting should be replaced with selective timber harvest and natural regeneration enhanced by fire, particularly lightning-season fire. If off-site species such as slash pine have been planted, they should be removed and replaced with longleaf pine at densities found in nature. Mechanical preparation of the soil should be avoided. If a site supports mature, closed-canopy pine plantations, they should be thinned with as little disturbance to the soil and remaining groundcover as possible. The natural hydrology and fire regime of terrestrial and aquatic habitats should be restored on sites where altered.

The wetland/upland ecotone appears to be critical to successful flatwoods salamander reproduction. Some areas are in need of periodic burning to clear encroaching shrubby vegetation that shades out herbaceous ground cover (Palis and Jensen 1995). Maintenance of a graminaceous ecotone and breeding site will require burning in the lightning-season when wetlands are dry or nearly dry (Huffman and Blanchard 1990) . Bury et al. (1980) recommended that wiregrass not be burned in winter (destructive to wiregrass [used for egg attachment] and possibly to salamanders directly). Palis and Jensen (1995) stated that winter burns may be needed to avoid catastrophic fires when warm-season burning is initiated.

Mechanical disturbance of the wetland-upland ecotone should be avoided. The practice of "protecting" wetlands by encircling them with plow line should be abandoned. Where present, berms should be removed and drainage ditches filled.

Breeding ponds should not be dredged or stocked with fishes.

Monitoring Requirements: The simplest and most inexpensive means of monitoring flatwoods salamanders is dipnet surveys of larval habitat. A 4-mm mesh nylon dipnet, manufactured by Mid-Lakes Corporation, Knoxville, Tennessee (net no. SH-2), has been successfully utilized for larval sampling in Florida (Palis, unpubl. data). Larval surveys are most successful during the latter half of February and the first half of March (J. Palis, pers. obs.), although sampling in other months may be as productive depending upon rainfall patterns and wetland hydrology. Larvae are most readily captured by sweeping a dipnet through inundated graminaceous vegetation by day or night (J. Palis, pers. obs.). Several dipnetting techniques will capture larvae. The net can be swept back and forth through inundated vegetation in a Z or S pattern. A second method involves submerging the bag of the net adjacent to the vegetation to be sampled, agitating the vegetation by foot or hand toward the net, and then thrusting the net through the vegetation in the opposite direction. In addition, multiple parallel dipnet sweeps can be made in the same direction. Because flatwoods salamander larvae occur in low densities (Sekerak 1994), an average of 50 meter-long dipnet sweeps are required to capture the first larva (Palis, unpubl. data).

Because flatwoods salamander larvae will enter the enter water column at night (J. Palis, pers. obs.), nocturnal transects using a flashlight can provide an estimation of the larval density. However, this technique is only applicable to wetlands having little herbaceous vegetation and relatively clear water. Minnow trapping (Gee 6-mm wire mesh funnel trap) has been used with limited success. Methods of quantifying larval sampling were described by Shaffer et al. (1994).

The population breeding at a particular wetland can be monitored by the use of a drift fence and traps. To obtain an accurate estimate of the population size, the entire breeding site must be encircled with a drift fence. Drift fences with traps have proven to be excellent means of surveying amphibian movement into and out of breeding sites (Gibbons and Semlitsch 1981). Because the water table at flatwoods salamander breeding sites is high, aluminum window screen funnel traps are required. Drift fencing is most productive between October and December when flatwoods salamanders are at the surface moving to and from breeding sites (Palis unpubl. data).

Management Research Needs: Development of a quantitative means of using surveys of larvae to indicate the size of the adult breeding population is needed.

Demographic data are needed to better understand the natural history and, in particular, factors that limit population size (e.g., egg, larval, and metamorph survivorship; competition with other species).

Longterm drift-fence studies are needed at several nearby sites to examine inter-pond salamander movement and to delineate the range of natural population fluctuations.

More information is needed on the extent of upland habitat required to support a population breeding in a particular pond. Radiotelemetry or radioactive tagging of adults could be used to address this need.

Effects on salamander populations of different forms of resource management and of anthropogenic habitat disturbance need to be examined (Palis and Jensen 1995).

Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Ambystomatid 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 larvae or eggs) in or near appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Separation Barriers: Heavily traveled road, especially at night during salamander breeding season, such that salamanders almost never successfully traverse the road; road with a barrier that is impermeable to salamanders; wide, fast rivers; areas of intensive development dominated by buildings and pavement.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 1 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 3 km
Separation Justification: BARRIERS/UNSUITABLE HABITAT: Rivers may or may not be effective barriers, depending on stream width and hydrodynamics; identification of streams as barriers is a subjective determination. Bodies of water dominated by predatory fishes have been described as barriers but probably should be regarded as unsuitable habitat. For A. barbouri, a stream-pool breeder, predatory fishes appeared to act as a barrier to larval dispersal and gene flow for populations separated by as little as 500-1000 m (Storfer 1999). Highly disturbed land, such as the cleared and bedded soils of some silvicultural site preparation, may serve as an impediment to movement of A. cingulatum (Means et al. 1996), although Ashton (1998) noted the species' use of pine plantations, pastures, and three-year-old clearcuts. Such areas should be treated as unsuitable habitat rather than barriers.

MOVEMENTS: Palis's (1997b) suggested use of 3.2 km between breeding sites to distinguish breeding populations of A. cingulatum was based on Ashton's (1992) finding that individuals may move as much as 1.6 km from their breeding ponds. Ambystoma californiense sometimes migrates up to 2 km between breeding ponds and terrestrial habitat (see USFWS 2004). Funk and Dunlap (1999) found that A. macrodactylum managed to recolonize lakes after trout extirpation despite evidence of low levels of interpopulation dispersal. Based on a review of several Ambystoma species (e.g., Semlitsch 1981, Douglas and Monroe 1981, Kleeberger and Werner 1983, Madison 1997), Semlitsch (1998) concluded that a radius of less than 200 meters around a breeding pond would likely encompass the terrestrial habitat used by more than 95 percent of adults. Faccio's (2003) study of radio-tagged A. maculatum and A. jeffersonianum in Vermont supports this conclusion. In New York, all movements of A. tigrinum occurred in areas within 300 m of the nearest breeding pond (Madison and Farrand 1998). However, most studies of these salamanders had small sample sizes and/or were not designed to detect long-distance movements, so migration distance may be somewhat underestimated.

In summary, ambystomatid salamanders generally stay within a few hundred meters of their breeding pool. Due to high breeding site fidelity and limitation of breeding to pool basins, populations using different breeding sites exhibit little or no interbreeding among adults. Thus one might argue that each pool constitutes a separate occurrence or that the separation distance for suitable habitat should be the nominal minimum of 1 km. However, little is known about how frequently first-time (or experienced) breeders use non-natal pools (pools from which they did not originate) or how far they may move to such sites. Frequent colonization of new and remote habitats by at least some species suggests that dispersal movements sometimes may be longer than typical adult migration distances. It seems unlikely that 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): .3 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: Inferred extent distance pertains to breeding sites (with the center of the circle in the center of the breeding site). Most ambystomatids stay within a few hundred meters of their breeding pool (see separation justification section).
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: 11Feb2014
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Jackson, D. R. (2014); Palis, J. G., D. R. Jackson, and G. Hammerson (2008)
Management Information Edition Date: 10Jan1995
Management Information Edition Author: Palis, John G.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 28Apr2008
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).


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  • Goin, C. J.  1950. A study of the salamander, Ambystoma cingulatum, with the description of a new subspecies.  Annals  of the Carnegie Museum 31:299-320 plus one plate.

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  • Hill, E. P.  2013.   Ambystoma cingulatum (frosted flatwoods salamander).  Courtship and oviposition.  Herpetological Review 44(1)112-113.

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  • Kraus, F. 1988. An empirical evaluation of the use of the ontogeny polarization criterion in phylogenetic inference. Systematic Zoology 37:106-141.

  • Krysko, K. L., K. M. Enge, and P. E. Moler. 2011. Atlas of amphibians and reptiles in Florida. Final report to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, Florida. Submitted 15 December 2011.


  • Marios, K. C., and K. C. Ewel. 1983. Natural and management-related variation in cypress domes. For. Sci. 29(3):627-40.

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  • Martof, B.S. 1968. Ambystoma cingulatum. Catalogue of American Amphibians and Reptiles. 57:1-2.

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  • Means, D. B. 1986. Special Concern: Flatwoods Salamander. Pp. 42-3 in R. H. Mount (ed.). Verterate Animals of Alabama in Need of Special Attention. Alabama Agricul. Exp. Sta. Auburn University, Auburn, AL.

  • Means, D. B. 1998. Geographic distribution. AMBYSTOMA CINGULATUM. Herpetol. Rev. 29:47.

  • Means, D. B., J. G. Palis, and M. Baggett. 1994c. Effects of slash pine silviculture on Florida panhandle populations of the flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum). HL/SSAR Joint Annual Meeting, University of Georgia, Athens (Abstract).

  • Means, D. B., J. G. Palis, and M. Baggett. 1996. Effects of slash pine silviculture on a Florida salamander. Conserv. Biol. 10(2): 426-437.

  • Means, D. B., J. G. Palis, and M. Baggett. 1996. Effects of slash pine silviculture on a Florida salamander. Conserv. Biol. 10(2): 426-437.

  • Means, D. B., T. E. Ostertag, and D. Printiss. 1994a. Distribution, habitat ecology and management of the striped newt (Notophthalmus perstriatus) in the Apalachicola National Forest, Florida. Report submitted to U.S. Forest Service National Forest in Florida, Tallahassee, Florida. 30 pp.

  • Mike Keys correspondence reporting observations of flatwoods salamanders at St. Marks NWF.

  • Moler, P. E. 1999. Preliminary biological status report: flatwoods salamander. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Comm., dated 21 Dec. 1999.

  • Moler, P. E., editor. 1992. Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida. Volume III. Amphibians and Reptiles. University Presses of Florida, Gainesville. xviii + 291 pp.

  • Moler, P. E., editor. 1992. Rare and endangered biota of Florida. Volume III. Amphibians and reptiles. University Press of Florida, Gainesville. xviii + 291 pp.

  • Mount, R. H. 1975. The reptiles and amphibians of Alabama. Auburn University Agricultural Experiment Station, Auburn, Alabama. vii + 347 pp.

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  • Palis, J. G. 1993. A status survey of the flatwoods salamander, Ambystoma cingulatum, in Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Final report to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Includes Addendum (forms and maps) bound separately.

  • Palis, J. G. 1997. Breeding migration of Ambystoma cingulatum) in Florida. J. Herpetol. 31:71-78.

  • Palis, J. G. 1997. Distribution, habitat, and status of the flatwoods salamander ( Ambystoma cingulatum) in Florida, USA. Herpetol. Nat. Hist. 5:53-65.

  • Palis, J. G. 1997. Element Stewardship Abstract: flatwoods salamander (AMBYSTOMA CINGULATUM Cope). Nat. Areas Journal 16:49-54.

  • Palis, J. G. 1997a. Breeding migration of Ambystoma cingulatum in Florida. Journal of Herpetology 31:71-78.

  • Palis, J. G. 1997b. Distribution, habitat, and status of the flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) in Florida, USA. Herpetological Natural History 5:53-65.

  • Palis, J. G. 1998. Review of draft EO Specifications for the flatwoods salamander. Letter dated 17 October 1998.

  • Palis, J. G., M. J. Aresco, and S. Kilpatrick. 2006. Breeding biology of a Florida population of Ambystoma cingulatum (flatwoods salamander) during a drought. Southeastern Naturalist 5:1-8.

  • Palis, J. G., and J. B. Jensen. 1995. Distribution and breeding biology of the flatwoods salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum) and gopher frog (Rana capito) on Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Final Report. Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Tallahassee, Florida.

  • Pauly, G. B., O. Piskurek, and H. B. Shaffer. 2007. Phylogeographic concordance in the southeastern United States: the flatwoods salamander, Ambystoma cingulatum, as a test case. Molecular Ecology 16:415-429. [Note: Two errors were inadvertently introduced into the paragraph on pages 424-425. The common names attributed to each flatwoods salamander species are reversed. Similarly, the previously published color pattern descriptions are incorrectly attributed to each species.]

  • Pauly, G.B., O. Piskurek, and H.B. Shaffer. 2007. Phylogeographic concordance in the southeastern United States: the flatwoods salamander, Ambystoma cingulatum, as a test case. Molecular Ecology 16:415-429.

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  • Pope, C. H., and S. H. Pope. 1951. A study of the salamander Plethodon ouachitae and the description of an allied form. Bull. Chicago Acad. Sci. 9:129-152.

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  • Sekerak, C. M. 1994. Vegetation and aquatic vertebrate and macroinvertebrate assemblages in flatwoods salamander breeding ponds in the Apalachicola National Forest. MS Thesis, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL.

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  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 1 April 1999. Final rule to list the flatwoods salamander as a threatened species. Federal Register 64(62):15691-15704.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 16 December 1997. Proposed rule to list the flatwoods salamander as threatened. Federal Register 62(241):65787-65794.

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  • Whiles, M. R., J. B. Jensen, J. G. Palis, and W. G. Dyer. 2004. Diets of larval flatwoods salamanders, Ambystoma cingulatum, from Florida and South Carolina. Journal of Herpetology 38:208-214.

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