Amphibians of North Carolina
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NC Records

Eurycea arenicola - Carolina Sandhills Salamander

Class: Amphibia Order: Caudata Family: Plethodontidae Subfamily: Spelerpinae
Taxonomic Comments: Eurycea arenicola is a member of the Eurycea bislineata species complex, which includes a group of stream-breeding salamanders that are found in eastern North America, many of which are referred to as two-lined salamanders (Stuart et al. 2020). One wide-ranging member, Eurycea bislineata, was traditionally treated as a polytypic species that contained three subspecies (E. b. bislineata; E. b. wilderae; E. b. cirrigera). Jacobs (1987) conducted a broadscale survey of allozyme patterns of populations across the eastern US and found several genetically differentiated groups. He recommended that the subspecies of E. bislineata be raised to the species level based on genetic distances between groups. Subsequent studies of contact zones support recognizing these as full species, with E. wilderae being a lineage that is mostly restricted to the southern Appalachian Mountains. Kozak et al. (2006a) conducted a mtDNA analysis of populations of the Eurycea bislineata species complex across the eastern US. They were able to delineate 13 major phylogenetically and geographically distinct lineages that were associated with pre-Pleistocene drainage patterns in eastern North America. Data from Kozak et al. (2006a) and Jacob (1987) indicate that both E. wilderae and E. cirrigera (sensu Jacobs 1987) are polyphyletic lineages, and that the recognition of additional species is warranted. A group of populations in the Sandhills of North Carolina that was previously treated as E. cirrigera, was recently described by Stuart et al. (2020) as a new species, E. arenicola. This is the first of what will likely be several new species that are described from populations that are currently recognized as either E. wilderae or E. cirrigera.
Species Comments: Although the range of the Carolina Sandhills Salamander adjoins that of E. cirrigera, both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA comparisons indicate that it is not the closest relative to E. cirrigera from adjacent Piedmont populations. This implies that E. arenicola represents a distinct evolutionary lineage rather than simply being a local ecomorph of adjacent populations of E. cirrigera. The ranges of E. arenicola and E. cirrigera appear to be parapatric. Narrow zones of contact with hybridization may exist at the peripheries of the range of E. arenicola where Sandhills habitat transitions into more typical Piedmont habitat (Stuart et al. 2020), but more detailed studies of contact zones are needed to determine if this is the case.
Description: Populations appear to be restricted to the Sandhills physiographic region of south-central North Carolina, and the adults are best identified by a combination of geographic locality, size, and markings. Relative to E. cirrigera, the adults are shorter, have narrower heads, and have black spotting or flecking on the dorsum rather than continuous dorsolateral stripes that extend from the eye to the tail (Beane et al. 2010, Stuart et al. 2020). The dorsal and ventral coloration is usually orange, red, or reddish orange, but some individuals tend towards olive yellow. The dorsum has small, diffuse black spots that are not organized into a mid-dorsal stripe as seen in some specimens of E. cirrigera. The continuous black dorsolateral stripe that is present in E. cirrigera is either missing completely, or represented by a row of small black dorsolateral spots that begins near the posterior margin of the eye and often extend along most of the length of the tail. Smaller black spots are also often present on the lateral surfaces of the tail. The venter is similar in color to the lower sides and is immaculate. The adults vary from 56–89 mm TL and 29–41 mm SVL, with the tail comprising 42–56% of the total length. Sexually active males have nasal cirri, mental glands, and enlarged premaxillary teeth.

The larvae are brownish above with scattered, irregular, dark brown spots and flecks on the head and body. Most have a series of paired brown spots with cream-colored centers that extend from the rear of the head to the base of the tail. The spot pairs are aligned anteriorly but become staggered posteriorly. The large gill branches are red and the finer gill fimbriae pink (Stuart et al. 2020). The larvae are indistinguishable from those of E. cirrigera from the Piedmont of North Carolina.
Technical Reference: Stuart et al. (2020)
Online Photos:    Google   iNaturalist
Observation Methods: The adults can be found beneath surface objects and debris in and along blackwater streams and in adjacent uplands. Many have been observed crossing paved roads on rainy nights, particularly during the fall and winter months. The larvae are most easily collected by dip-netting in leaf debris or aquatic vegetation in streams.
AmphibiaWeb Account
Distribution in North Carolina
Distribution Comments: This species appears to be restricted to the Sandhiils physiographic region of North Carolina. As of 2022, populations have been discovered in Harnett, Hoke, Montgomery, Moore, Richmond, Robeson, and Scotland counties (Stuart et al. 2020).
Distribution Reference: Stuart et al. (2020)
County Map: Clicking on a county returns the records for the species in that county.
GBIF Global Distribution
Key Habitat Requirements
Habitat: The Carolina Sandhills Salamander, as implied by the name, is confined to the Fall-line Sandhills region of North Carolina (Beane et al. 2010, Stuart et al. 2020). It is highly associated with blackwater streams, ranging from seepage runs and streamheads down to moderate-sized creeks. Although these streams drain uplands where fire-maintained, Longleaf Pine communities prevail, the streamhead habitats occupied by this species typically have a closed canopy composed of Swamp Blackgum and other hardwood trees that are tolerant of peatland or blackwater soil and associated water conditions. Streams in these habitats have sandy or clayey substrates and generally lack rocks that are important habitat features for other members of the Eurycea bislineata species complex. The larvae have a larval period that last at least one year. As such, they are restricted to permanent streams and seepage runs and are generally excluded from ephemeral headwaters that do not hold water year-round. Although the adults are usually found close to streams, they may move out into the surrounding forest on rainy nights.
See also Habitat Account for Sandhill Forested Streamheads and Creeks
Life History and Autecology
Breeding and Courtship: Very little is known about the reproductive biology of this species. Courtship has not been reported, but mating presumably occurs during the fall or early winter months. A male and a gravid female were found together under a board along a shallow wetland in Richmond County on 5 December, and gravid females have been found in late fall and early winter (Stuart et al. 2020).
Reproductive Mode: The eggs are typically laid during the winter months on submerged root masses or other submerged substrates at the edges of streams. Limited observations suggest that the females attend their nests until hatching (Beane et al. 2010). Nests have been found in February and March, and hatchlings from late winter through early spring.
Aquatic Life History: Most aspects of the larval stage of this species are undocumented. The larvae live in leaf beds, aquatic vegetation, and root tangles in streams and seeps where they presumably feed on small invertebrates like other members of the E. bislineata complex. The length of the larval period is largely unknown, but larvae have been collected during all months of the year, indicating a larval period of at least one year (Stuart et al. 2020).
General Ecology
Adverse Environmental Impacts
Status in North Carolina
NHP State Rank: S3
Global Rank: G3?Q
Status in North Carolina: W3
Status Comments: Although it can be abundant locally in suitable habitat, the small geographic range of this species has resulted in it being listed on the W3 Watch List by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program for more than two decades (LeGrand and Hall 1997, Ratcliffe 2018).

Photo Gallery for Eurycea arenicola - Carolina Sandhills Salamander

7 photos are shown.

Recorded by: T. Stafford
Moore Co.
Recorded by: B. Bockhahn, T. stafford, E. Dousharm, B. Hartness, M. Prinz
Moore Co.
Recorded by: B. Bockhahn, T. stafford, E. Dousharm, B. Hartness, M. Prinz
Moore Co.
Recorded by: T. Stafford
Moore Co.
Recorded by: ASH
Moore Co.
Recorded by: ASH
Moore Co.
Recorded by: S.Lambiase
Moore Co.