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Mount Lyell Salamander - Hydromantes platycephalus

(Camp, 1916)
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Mount Lyell Salamander Range Map
Range in California: Red

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Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
Adult, Tuolumne County Adult, Tuolumne County
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
Adult, El Dorado County Adult, Tuolumne County Adult, Tuolumne County
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
Adult, Tuolumne County Sub-adult, El Dorado County Underside of adult, El Dorado County
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander foot
Adult, Placer County © Will Richardson Adult, 8,200 ft. Placer County.
© Steve Zimmerman
Webbed toes on rear foot
  Mount Lyell Salamander sign  
  Sign at Half Dome, where Hydromantes habitat has been disturbed, Yosemite National Park, Mariposa County
© William Flaxington
 
     
Juveniles
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
Juvenile, Tuolumne County
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
Juvenile, Tuolumne County Juvenile, Tuolumne County Juvenile, El Dorado County
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander  
Juvenile, Tuolumne County Juvenile, Placer County
Will Richardson
 
     
Habitat
Mount Lyell Salamander Habitat Mount Lyell Salamander Habitat Mount Lyell Salamander Habitat
Habitat, 8,700 ft., El Dorado County Habitat, 8,700 ft., El Dorado County Habitat, 9,000 ft., Tuolumne County
Mount Lyell Salamander Habitat Mount Lyell Salamander Habitat Mount Lyell Salamander Habitat
Habitat, 9,000 ft., Tuolumne County Habitat, 9,000 ft., Tuolumne County Habitat, 8,200 ft. Placer County.
© Steve Zimmerman
Mount Lyell Salamander Habitat Mount Lyell Salamander Habitat  
Habitat, 8,400 ft., Placer County
© Will Richardson
Habitat, 8,400 ft., Placer County
© Will Richardson
 
     
Short Videos
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
An adult climbs up a rocky seep high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. A tiny juvenile in Tuolumne County. This juvenile was found on a steep rock face with water flowing down it.


Hydromantes platycephalus - Mount Lyell Salamander
from the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains

(Owens Valley Web-toed Salamander or Oak Creek Salamander)


Although Hydromantes salamanders from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains are currently grouped with Hydromantes platycephalus, they differ in color and habitat. In 1985, Macy and Papenfuss identified what they believed to be a new species of Hydromantes on the "Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada at least from the area around Owens Lake to Big Pine" which they named the Owens Valley Web-toed Salamander.
(Macey, J. Robert and Theodore Papenfuss."Herpetology." The Natural History of the White-Inyo Range Eastern California. Ed. Clarence Hall. University of California Press, 1991.)

The Owens Valley Web-toed Salamander was listed separately from the Mount Lyell Salamander by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2011, but not in 2016.

Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
  Adult, Inyo County  
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
Adult, Inyo County Adult, Inyo County Adult, Inyo County
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
Adult, Inyo County Adult, Inyo County Adult, Inyo County
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander
Adult, Inyo County Adult, Inyo County Adults, Inyo County
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander s  
Juvenile, Inyo County Adult male and juvenile.
© Adam G. Clause
Animal captured and handled under state Scientific Collecting Permit and released at point of capture.
 
     
Habitat
Mount Lyell Salamander habitat Mount Lyell Salamander habitat Mount Lyell Salamander habitat
Habitat, 7,000 ft. Inyo County Habitat, 7,000 ft. Inyo County Habitat, 7,000 ft. Inyo County
Mount Lyell Salamander habitat Mount Lyell Salamander habitat  
Habitat, 7,000 ft. Inyo County Habitat, 7,000 ft. Inyo County  
     
Short Videos
Mount Lyell Salamander Mount Lyell Salamander  
An adult salamander crawls up and over a large wet rock and under another one next to an Inyo County creek. An adult salamander is seen crawling down a large granite rock next to a creek in Inyo County.  
   
Description
 
Size
Adults measure 1.7 - 3.5 inches long (4.4-9.0 cm) from snout to vent.

Appearance
A small stocky salamander with a short tail, webbed feet, and a flattened head and body and 12 costal grooves.
The toes are webbed and the tail is short to aid in climbing.
Nasolabial grooves are present.
Color and Pattern
The dorsal surface usually gray, or brownish, the color of the granite rocks they inhabitat, marked with dark spots again to help camouflage an individual.
The ventral surface is dusky with white flecks.
Juveniles
Young are dark with a greenish tinge.

Life History and Behavior
A member of family Plethodontidae, the Plethodontid or Lungless Salamanders.

Plethodontid salamanders do not breathe through lungs. They conduct respiration through their skin and their mouth tissues, which requires them to live in damp environments on land and to move about on the ground only during times of high humidity. (Plethodontid salamanders native to California do not inhabit streams or bodies of water but they are capable of surviving for some time if they fall into water.)

Plethodontid salamanders are also distinguished by their naso-labial grooves, which are vertical slits between the nostrils and upper lip that are lined with glands associated with chemoreception.

All Plethodontid Salamanders native to California lay eggs in moist places on land.
The young develop in the egg and hatch directly into a tiny terrestrial salamander with the same body form as an adult.
(They do not hatch in the water and begin their lives as tiny swimming larvae breathing through gills like some other types of salamanders.)
Activity
This species is nocturnal and cold tolerant down to 35 degrees F. (2.0 C).
Surface activity is from late April to early September.
Mt. Lyell Salamanders probably move into below-ground microhabitats and remain inactive during winter freezes and summer droughts, but they remain active underground during the summer.

Adapted to climb easily over smooth steep rock surfaces using its webbed feet and tail for stability.

Several H. platycephalus were observed by G. Nafis and T. Burkhardt on May 18, 2001 at 9000 ft.elevation in Tuolumne County. The salamanders were actively foraging on steep rock faces wet from snowmelt at 12:00 AM with an air temperature of 40 degrees F.
Defense
Defense mechanisms include raising up the head and tail and flattening the body, producing sticky toxic skin secretions, and tightly coiling the body and tail and rolling downhill (the same escape tactic used by other Hydromantes species.) (You can watch a short video of a different species of salamander using this coiling, rolling and springing escape technique here.)
Diet and Feeding
Diet consists primarily of insects and other small invertebrates.
Feeds by shooting out a very long sticky mushroom-like tongue very quickly to catch prey.
Breeding
Little is known about the breeding behavior of this species.
Reproduction is terrestrial.
Eggs
Females presumably lay eggs in early summer.
Young
Young develop completely in the egg and hatch fully formed.
 Apparent hatchlings have been found in summer.

Habitat
Associated with granite talus with water seeping through it, typically downslope from snowfields that melt well into the summer. Inhabits caves, granite boulders, rock fissures. rocky stream edges, and seepages from springs and melting snow. Frequents cliff faces, vertical cavern walls, and level ground. In the Yosemite Valley, H. platycephalus is found within the spray zones of several waterfalls and under moss on wet rock faces. Most locations tend to be open, not shaded.

Geographical Range
Endemic to California, with a fairly continuous range from the Sonora Pass area south to the Franklin Pass area, Tulare County along the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Low elevation records are from the Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County. Isolated populations occur at the Sierra Buttes, Sierra county, Smith Lake, El Dorado County, and Blackwood Canyon.

The Blackwood Canyon population in the Truckee River drainage of the Lake Tahoe Basin was discovered in 2006. This is the first record from Placer County, filling in a major gap in the distribution of this salamander.
(Richardson & Gienger. Herpetological Review 38(2), 2007)
Salamanders and habitat from this Placer County location are shown above.
Elevational Range
At elevations of 4000-12,000 ft (1220 - 3660 m).

Notes on Taxonomy
Discovered by accident in 1915  when salamanders were accidentally caught in traps intended to catch small mammals on Mt. Lyell in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

H. platycephalus
is one of only three species (thus far) of Hydromantes in the United States, all of which are endemic to California, including H. brunus, and H. shastae. The only other members of the genus Hydromantes (now called Speleomantes by some researchers) occur in Italy and southern France. They are the only plethodontid salamanders found outside of the Americas. (A new species of lungless salamander found in Asia in 2004 was placed in a new genus.) Why Hydromantes is found only in Europe and California is still an amazing biogeographical mystery, even though it is now accepted that the two populations are different, but similar, genera.


H. platycephalus is currently under genetic scrutiny and may actually represent a complex of two to three species.

Macy and Pappenfuss (The Natural History of the White-Inyo Range Eastern California, 1991) have proposed that H. platycephalus occurring on the desert slope of the eastern Sierra Nevada are a distinct taxon, the Owens Valley Web-toed Salamander, but a formal description has not yet been published.



A study by U.C. Berkeley researcher Sean M. Rovito** published in 2010 reported that "Phylogeographical analysis revealed two divergent lineages within Hydromantes platycephalus, which were estimated to have diverged in the Pliocene. By contrast, a low-elevation species, Hydromantes brunus, diverged from within the northern lineages of H. platycephalus much more recently (mid-Pleistocene), during a time of major climatic change in the Sierra Nevada."
These two deeply divergent mtDNA lineages of H. platycephalus are separated by the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River in the Mammoth Lakes region of the central Sierra Nevada, with the northern population found from Ritter Pass north and the southern population found from Lake George south, including the Owens Valley population on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada.

** Sean M. Rovito. Lineage divergence and speciation in the Web-toed Salamanders (Plethodontidae: Hydromantes) of the Sierra Nevada, California. Molecular Ecology (2010) 19,4554-4571. © 2010 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.



Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Eastern Sierra Nevada salamanders: Hydromantes sp. - Owens Valley Web-toed Salamander (not yet described) (Macey and Papenfuss, 1991)

Hydromantes platycephalus - Mount Lyell Salamander (BIshop 1943, Stebbins 1954, 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012)
Hydromantes platycephala - Mount Lyell Salamander (Storer 1925)
Eurycea platycephala (Stejneger and Barbour 1917)
Speleres platycephalus (Camp 1916)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
A California Species of Special Concern. There is no evidence to suggest that there have been recent changes to the population densities or range of this species.
Taxonomy
Family Plethodontidae Lungless Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Hydromantes Web-toed Salamanders Gistel, 1848
Species

platycephalus Mount Lyell Salamander (Camp, 1916)
Original Description
Camp, 1916 - Univ. California Publ. Zool., Vol. 17, p. 11

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Hydromantes: Greek - water/soothsayer or prophet.
platycephalus: Greek - flat headed.

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related California Salamanders
Shasta Salamander
Limestone Salamander

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

AmphibiaWeb

Movies of Hydromantes feeding

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Amphibians of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Bishop, Sherman C. Handbook of Salamanders. Cornell University Press, 1943.

Lannoo, Michael (Editor). Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. University of California Press, June 2005.

Petranka, James W. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution, 1998.

Macey, J. Robert and Theodore Papenfuss."Herpetology." The Natural History of the White-Inyo Range Eastern California. Ed. Clarence Hall. University of California Press, 1991.


Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the 2017 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status, you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.


On the 2011 Special Animals List salamanders from the eastern Sierra Nevada are listed separately as Hydromantes sp. 1 Owens Valley web-toed salamander (AKA Oak Creek salamander) but the 2016 Special Animals List does not list them separately.
Organization
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking G4 Apparently Secure—Uncommon but not rare; some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.
NatureServe State Ranking S4 Apparently Secure—Uncommon but not rare in the state; some cause for long-term concern due to
declines or other factors.
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife WL Watch List
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN LC Least Concern
 

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