Jemez Mountains salamander  Plethodon neomexicanus
ESA status: endangered

Jemez_Mountains_salamander_Chris Newsom

The small brown and gold Jemez Mountains salamander is shy and rarely seen. This secretive amphibian lives in fragmented populations within one limited area surrounding the Valles Caldera of the Jemez Mountains. It spends most of its time hidden underground in moist soils, and with good reason – it has no lungs, and must stay moist in order to absorb oxygen through its skin. However, it is strictly terrestrial, and though it needs moisture it does not require standing water at any stage of its life, hatching fully-formed from the egg instead of going through a tadpole phase like many other salamanders. At night the Jemez Mountains salamander may venture out, walking softly on webbed feet, to hunt for ants, mites, and beetles inside rotted logs. When the temperature drops below 6°C in the winter, it retreats underground into hibernation.

Ninety percent of its population lives within the boundaries of Santa Fe National Forest. The Jemez Mountains salamander is the most imperiled of only three salamanders that live in New Mexico and is very vulnerable to losing more of its already limited habitat. It used to be more abundant in areas that were clear-cut, but its population has precipitously declined. It is now found in only 38 percent of historically occupied sites. It still suffers from logging, wildfires, activities involved in fire suppression such as trench-digging and application of fire suppressant chemicals, and road-building in its habitat. Very few of these small salamanders make it alive across the busy roads they try to cross in their nightly travels.

WildEarth Guardians is urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Jemez Mountains salamander and its habitat under the Endangered Species Act. Protecting the Jemez Mountains salamander would not only be a boon for the salamander itself, but would safeguard the Jemez Mountains, preserving large tracts of undisturbed wilderness with vistas of rocky peaks and mountain streams. Since these mountains were formed by volcanic activity, they also contain unique features such as hot springs, fumaroles, and the Valles Caldera itself, a ring of hills formed from the remnants of several extinct volcanoes.

The beauty of the Valles Caldera would be incomplete without the subtle presence and irreplaceable contributions of the Jemez Mountains salamander. We will continue digging up dirt on this secretive salamander until it gets the protection it needs.

photo credit: Chris Newsom