animals salamander appalachians biodiversity summer postcard

Salameandering – Searching the Southern Appalachians for Gummy Lizards

In the Southern Appalachians, salamander diversity is tops. I went to see how many species I could find.

To: That’s Life [Science] Headquarters

1 Science Communication Drive

Science Internet, Earth

From: Emily Fusco

Along streams and seeps

Southern Appalachian Mountains

Public Lands


Dearest TLS,

After what sometimes felt like an endless winter of crunching numbers, analyzing data, and writing results, I was ready to leave my computer for some outdoor adventure. When May finally rolled around, I packed my bags and headed to the Southern Appalachian Mountains in search of salamanders (sometimes affectionately referred to as gummy lizards because they look like lizards, only a little… squishier). The Southern Appalachians are home to more salamander species than anywhere else on the planet! The goal of the trip was to experience an amazing biodiversity hotspot by finding as many salamander species as possible over the course of 10 days. The final species count was 36. Here were three of my favorites:

10152017_FUSCO#1 Fig. 1 The Wellers salamander (Plethadon welleri) is a beautiful black and gold critter that lives on just a handful of mountaintops in the Southern Appalachians. (Image by Emily Fusco.)

10152017_FUSCO#2 Fig. 2 While it is relatively easy to find larval spring salamanders (Gyrinophilus porphyriticus) this adult was a real prize. (Image by Emily Fusco.)

10152017_FUSCO#3 Fig. 3 The southern pygmy salamander (Desmognathus wrighti) lives its entire life on land. This is different than many salamanders that spend their younger days as aquatic larvae with gills. Believe it or not, the largest of these salamanders are still no more than 1.7 inches. (Image by Emily Fusco.)

All the best (salamanders),


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