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Vomerine tooth series in two lines which widely diverge posteriorly and converge anteriorly. Tail length approximately equal to or a little shorter than body with head. Skin smooth in the adults in the aquatic phase and granular in the terrestrial phase. Dorsal surface dark, grayish, brown or olive, and sometimes almost black. Unclear light spots often present, sometimes forming blotched-like pattern; sometimes white spots are present on the flanks. Ventral surface are bright yellow or orange. Terrestrial males have remains of the mid-dorsal crest, and a more swollen cloaca than females. During the breeding season, the male has a low middorsal crest, unnotched, with light and dark spots, and bright blue spots and white or silver longitudinal bands with dark points on the body flanks. The female has no middorsal crest or lateral bands. The blue spots on her dorsal surface may be fused. There are also significant sexual differences in morphometrics of body and tail length (females are slightly larger), the lengths of the foreleg and hindleg, relative head length, etc.
The phylogeography of I. alpestris has recently been investigated using mtDNA, revealing five major clades (Sotiropoulos et al. 2007). Clade A consists of populations from southeastern Serbia, with this clade originating in the late Miocene. This Serbian lineage is thought to be ancestral to a western and an eastern lineage, with a mid-Pliocene divergence. The western lineage is divided into Clade B (Italy) and C (central Europe and Iberia). The eastern lineage is divided into Clade D (southern Balkans) and E (central-northern Balkans). Eastern clades seem to have been isolated in multiple refugia during glaciation cycles, based on high sequence divergence. Western clades are thought to have colonized central, western, and northeastern Europe from a possible refugium in central Europe (Sotiropoulos et al. 2007).
This analysis also indicates that paedomorphic lineages of I. alpestris appear to have evolved during early to mid-Pleistocene, likely in response to the ongoing climatic fluctuations (Sotiropoulos et al. 2007).
At the southernmost edge of the species range, in Greece, two major mitochondrial lineages of I. alpestris veluchiensis have been separated since the mid-Pleistocene. Populations from Peloponnisos and the Greek mainland show significant differences in both nuclear gene frequencies and mitochondrial haplotypes, and consistently fall out into separate, strongly supported clades. These lineages have been proposed to warrant separate conservation status (Sotiropoulos et al. 2007).