The Southern Two-Lined Salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) is a small species of salamander of the family Plethodontidae, typically growing to 2.4-4” in length. They can be identified by the two parallel black lines that run laterally down their tan to yellow dorsum to the end of the tail. Most individuals also exhibit black spots along the back, between the lateral lines. Their bodies are slender with 14 costal grooves. Mature males can be distinguished by enlarged jaw musculature, a mental gland beneath the chin for pheromone secretion, and cirri, which are presumed to aid in chemoreception.
Diet/Feeding: These salamanders feed on invertebrate organisms found in or near the creeks and streams they inhabit, including earthworms, spiders, flies, ticks, millipedes, and various larvae. Plethodontids are unique among other salamanders due to their lack of lungs. Lack of this functional constraint has allowed for the specialization of certain elements to aid in feeding. A cartilaginous hyobranchial apparatus (tongue skeleton) folds during the extension of the tongue, allowing it to project from the mouth. A sticky pad at the tip of the tongue adheres to the prey item, which is then retracted into the mouth of the salamander. This modified feeding mechanism allows the salamander to catch a prey item at up to 80% of their body length in distance.
Habitat/Range: Southern Two-Lined Salamanders can be found throughout the Southeast United States, excluding the peninsular region of Florida. As members of the family Plethodontidae, they are lungless salamanders and rely on cutaneous respiration, requiring the skin to be kept moist. All individuals are at least semi-aquatic, with some adults remaining fully aquatic. They typically occupy shallow creeks and streams that are abundant with rocks, wood debris, and leaf litter for cover, although they have been observed both in much deeper waters as well as terrestrial forest environments during wet weather.
Reproduction: Breeding begins with a mating ritual that involves the male repeatedly nudging the female to judge her receptiveness. Males possess elongated premaxillary teeth during breeding season (typically September through May) which are used to lacerate the skin of the females to facilitate delivery of the pheromones which are secreted through the mental gland, located on the male’s chin. If the female is willing, she responds by following closely behind the male until he deposits a spermatophore (a gelatinous and conical structure topped with a sperm cap). The female picks up the spermatophore through the cloaca, where the spermatozoa are then released into the spermatheca and stored there until the female expels them to fertilize her eggs. The female deposits between 15 and 120 eggs in a single, clustered layer on the underside of rocks, logs, or other aquatic vegetation in a creek or stream. She will then remain with the eggs for the 4-10 weeks that the eggs require for hatching (dependent on water temperature). The newly hatched salamanders will metamorphose in 1-2 years. They will then become sexually mature at anywhere from 2-4 years of age.
Herping Tips: Southern Two-Lined Salamanders can most often be found by flipping rocks and debris in shallow, flowing creeks and streams during spring and autumn months. They quickly try to escape beneath other debris or into the substrate, so act quickly! Grasp them at the middle of the body or towards the head, as they can drop their tails in an escape attempt.