Four-toed salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum)
Four-toed salamanders (Hemidactylium scutatum) were documented for the first time in Minnesota in 1994 by the Minnesota Biological Survey and Chippewa National Forest biologists, while conducting cooperative survey work in Itasca County. In 1999, targeted searches documented twelve additional locations in Aitkin, Carlton, Mille Lacs, and Pine counties. Prior to this work, the known range of the Four-toed salamander was from Wisconsin east to Maine and south to Georgia, with several disjunct populations along the western edge of its range. The Minnesota locations represent a western extension of the range of this species.
The Four-toed salamander is a secretive, small salamander up to 10 cm (4 inches) in length. It has only four toes on its front and hind feet.
Four-toed salamanders are typically found in small, isolated colonies. Adults generally inhabit mature hardwood forests associated with wetland depressions or small streams. They find shelter in the forest floor under leaf litter, woody debris, rocks, and moss. Females lay eggs in sphagnum moss hummocks, in shallow wetlands, or stream-side pools where hatchlings move into the water after emerging from the egg.
In order to maximize the likelihood of encountering the species, biologists conducted searches in selected wetlands during the salamander's nesting season in April and May. Wetlands surveyed were small and most often contained a moss component. The moss covered woody debris, was mounded at the base of alder or willow shrubs, or formed hummocks at the edge of open water. These clumps of moss were carefully searched for female Four-toed salamanders and their egg masses. Salamanders were found hidden in the moss that was providing protection from dehydration and predators.
Four-toed salamanders (top) can be easily distinguished from the similar appearing Eastern Red-backed Salamander (bottom) by looking at their bellies.