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Photo credit: Chris Newsom

Jemez Mountains salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus) | ESA status: endangered

Jemez Mountains salamander

The small and secretive Jemez Mountains salamander lives in a limited area in and around the Valles Caldera of New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains. It has no lungs and must stay moist in order to absorb oxygen through its skin, forcing it to spend most of its time hidden underground in damp soils. Yet although it needs moisture to live, this species is strictly terrestrial, and does not require standing water at any stage of its life. Unlike many other salamanders, it hatches fully formed from its egg instead of going through a tadpole phase.

The Jemez Mountains salamander ventures out at night to hunt for ants, mites, and beetles inside rotted logs. When the temperature drops below 42.8°F/6°C in the winter, it retreats underground to hibernate.

Jemez Mountains salamander habitat

Ninety percent of the Jemez Mountains salamander population lives within the boundaries of the Santa Fe National Forest. To protect the Jemez Mountains salamander, one must safeguard the Jemez Mountains—a striking landscape characterized by large tracts of undisturbed wilderness, rocky peaks, and mountain streams. Because volcanic activity formed the mountains, they also contain unique features such as hot springs, fumaroles, and the Valles Caldera itself, a ring of hills born from the remnants of several extinct volcanoes.

What are the threats to the Jemez Mountains salamander?

The Jemez Mountains salamander is the most imperiled of the three salamanders that live in New Mexico and is very vulnerable to losing more of its already limited habitat. It is now found in only 38 percent of the sites it historically occupied. Logging, wildfires, and fire suppression activities—such as trench-digging and application of fire-suppressant chemicals—threaten the remaining salamanders. So does road-building: sometimes these tiny amphibians don’t make it across roads alive during their nightly travels.

What WildEarth Guardians is doing to preserve the Jemez Mountains salamander

We petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the Jemez Mountains salamander and its habitat under the Endangered Species Act, and it was listed as endangered in 2013. We continue to urge federal agencies including the Forest Service to protect the salamander and the Jemez Mountains environment where it resides. The beauty of the Valles Caldera would be incomplete without the subtle presence and irreplaceable contributions of this creature.