Cannibalism in the salamander, Plethodon cinereus

TitleCannibalism in the salamander, Plethodon cinereus
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1961
AuthorsHeatwole HFranklin, Test FH

Murphy, Smallwood, Hamilton, and Jameson have all studied the food habits of Plethodon cinereus and found that it eats a variety of small invertebrates. Other comments by various authors substantiate this general statement. It appears that this species may eat anything it encounters within a suitable size range which is active enough to attract the salamander's attention by its motion. Thus it is not surprising to find that cannibalism occasionally occurs, although it has not been previously reported in the literature for this species. However, Piersol metnions a captive female swallowing and later regurgitating two eggs. During the summers of 1951, 1952, 1954, and 1955, stomach contents of 317 individuals of P. cinereus collected in the vicinity of UMBS were examined by students. Of these, two specimens had each eaten a young individual of the same species. This very low incidence (0.6%) indicates that cannibalism occurs rather infrequently under field conditions and hence probably does not exert a great influence on natural populations. An unusual instance of cannibalism in this species was noted under laboratory conditions. Approximately 100 salamanders were collected during the summer of 1957 in the UMBS area and subsequently placed in a large terrarium to be kept for experimental purposes. On November 1, 1957, an individual of the black color type was removed from the terrarium and examined because of its plump appearance. On being handled, it regurgitated a salamander of the striped color type. The head and some of the tail of the prey had been partly digested. The remaining part was 46 mm. long. The length of the predatory salamander was 42 mm. from snout to front of hind leg (89 mm. total length). The prey was probably swallowed head first as the tail was the first part ot emerge at regurgitation. Whether such ambitious gastronomic feats occur in nature is not known, and it is possible that the crowded conditions of the terrarium in which the animals were kept may have been responsible for this unusual occurrence.