Second Day - West Virginia

Desmognathus ochrophaeus


Red Eft



I spent the first night in a cheap motel in Weston, West Virginia, waking up to cloud cover and light rain. Today was Sunday, and my end goal for today was to reach Baltimore, continuing east through West Virginia and over into Virginia towards Washington. I could spare about a half day for salamandering on the way.

The rain was intermittent as I headed east into the Allegheny mountains. Today was not the first day of rain here, and the streams were all angry and swollen and the banks lined with trout fishermen. I found a forest service road next to a rock-covered hillside, and parked to check things out; I got a hundred feet from the car and the heavens opened up. I went back for my poncho. I didn't mind looking for salamanders in the rain, and getting wet in the process, but I was concerned about getting pictures in the rain, and more seriously, getting water inside my digital camera. I wasn't all that sure how it would hold up under these wet conditions, so I wrapped it in an old bath towel and stowed in my knapsack.

Fortunately the rain slacked off after twenty minutes or so, because I was finding some salamanders here. First up were several Slimy Salamanders under logs. Here in the northeastern counties of West Virginia, these are considered Plethodon cylindraceus, the White Spotted Slimy Salamander. Although most forms in the glutinosus complex have white spots, these specimens came with large and well defined round white spots, and were quite pretty. People would ooh and ahh over Slimies more if they were only found on one mountain top.

Next up were four Allegheny Mountain Dusky Salamanders, Desmognathus ochrophaeus, a new species for me. Mixed in with these were several Northern Duskies, but I could tell them apart by the tail - ochrophaeus having a round, unkeeled tail, as opposed to the keeled and compressed tail on D. fuscus fuscus. Desmogs as a whole seem to run the gamut between attractively marked and nondescript, with old adults not carrying much in the way of color or pattern.

Moving on, as I got close to Virginia the rain stopped, and the sun poked out here and there. Up here in the mountains, spring was coming a little later, as the deciduous trees were just starting to leaf out a bit, along with the understory vegetation. Another hillside beckoned, this one featuring a lengthy hiking trail up to Bear Mountain. Nobody ever names mountains after salamanders; mammals and pioneers get the high ground. I opted to just hang out on the hill, which could have been called Redback Hill, since I turned up several dozen Plethodon cinereus under rocks and logs here. I chanced upon a Red Eft out for a crawl on a large boulder. Efts can get away with these daytime outings, being Gastronomic Death on Four Legs, and advertising that fact in bold color.

Coming back down the hill I found two Slimy Salamanders that looked quite different from the cylindraceus seen earlier in the day. These specimens had very tiny white dots and fewer of them, with some flecking on the sides of the body. I took some photos, but in retrospect, I wish I had examined them more closely, since they may possibly have been examples of Plethodon punctatus, the White Spotted Salamander. P. punctatus is not a Slimy Salamander, and is closely related to Wehrle's Salamander (Plethodon wehrlei).

That was all the time I had to spend in the field that day. I still had to cross Virginia, find lodgings in or near Baltimore, and prepare for tomorrow's presentation. When I had finished with that, I could turn my attention back to salamanders.

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