Piedmont Dusky Salamander
(Desmognathus bairdi)

This species is a member of the Northern Dusky Salamander Complex. Formerly one species ranging up the east coast of the United States, it has now been split into three species throughout its former range – two of which occur in South Carolina. It is found in a variety of habitats, from the piedmont to the upper coastal plain. It is a primarily aquatic salamander found in streams and seepages. While you can find them in rocky areas, it is seemingly tolerant of siltation, preferring more mucky areas than some of its other sympatric congeners.

It is a medium sized salamander with a lightly keeled tail, so that a cross section looks similar to a spade head. Piedmont dusky dorsal patterning can vary wildly, but generally is some kind of large dorsal strip or alternating patterning. Different than other members of the complex, this species can be distinguished by porthole spotting on their sides. They usually does not melanize as much with age but will lose its bright coloration for a duller brown. They have light colored toe tips and a salt and pepper ventral coloration – typically with white flecking down the flanks.

A good number of dusky salamanders overlap with this species. In South Carolina, the Wolf Dusky Salamander (the other member of the northern dusky complex) appears very similar. But this species found in the central portion of the state while the Piedmont Dusky is most commonly cound north of the Great Pee Dee River. Seal Salamanders may also look similar and have a similar tail shape.  However, Seal Salamanders lack any ventral coloration. Spotted Dusky Salamanders are virtually identical, but the two species do not overlap in range. Carolina Swamp Dusky Salamanders also look virtually identical, and range is your best tool for distinguishing the species. 

Contributed by Kevin Hutcheson (7/12/2023)