Red-cheeked Salamanders Are Great Smoky Mountain National Park Superheroes

The Red-cheeked Salamanders of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are superheroes. Found only in this unique park, research has revealed that the salamanders can secrete a special, toxic substance to keep predators away.

Ranging from 3.5 to 5 inches long, the Red-cheeked Salamanders are generally dark gray in color, making their red cheeks and/or red legs really pop.

The National Park Service writes: “When attacked, this salamander can bite back and will release poisonous slime from the base of its tail.” Like many Iizard varieties, this salamander species also drops its tail to distract a would-be nemesis. Think that’s not enough for superhero status? They can also breath through their very skin.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park is a salamander hotspot, home to 30 of the United States’ 190 species. Of all the wildlife in the park, salamanders represent the majority of backboned animals, even surpassing human visitors.

Unfortunately, climate change is threatening the unique habitats they need to survive, especially at higher elevations. The decline of salamander populations causes reverberations across the food web; they are prolific eaters of forest insects. Scientists continue to study them closely, as these superheroes indicate the overall health of the mountain ecosystem.

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