Adults are 1 3/5 - 3 1/2 inches long (4.1 - 8.9 cm) from snout to vent, 4 - 6 2/3 inches (10 - 17 cm) in total length.
A medium-sized salamander.
The body is stout with 12 - 13 costal grooves and a broad rounded head, a blunt snout, small protuberant eyes, and no nasolabial grooves.
The tail is flattened from side to side to facilitate swimming.
Color and Pattern
Black above with an orange dorsal stripe, broken into spots and bars.
The sides are sprinkled with whitish specks.
The venter is grey or black.
Larvae have broad heads, three pairs of bushy gills and broad caudal fins that extend well onto the back.
Life History and Behavior
A member of the Mole Salamander family (Ambystomatidae) whose members are medium to large in size with heavy, stocky bodies.
Ambystomatid salamanders have two distinct life phases:
- Larvae hatch from eggs laid in water where they swim using an enlarged tail fin and breathe with filamentous external gills. - Aquatic larvae transform into four-legged salamanders that live on the ground and breathe air with lungs.
Transformed adults are terrestrial and breathe with lungs but some gilled adults remain in the water and grow to a large size before transforming. However, neotenic adults have not been reported.
Adults spend much of their lives underground, often utilizing the tunnels of burrowing mammals such as moles and ground squirrels.
Transformed adults are rarely found outside of the breeding season.
They are mostly found under wood, logs, rocks, bark and other objects near breeding sites, or when they are breeding in the water. At other times of the year they stay in rotten logs or moist places underground such as animal burrows.
Adults migrate to breeding sites, then return to terrestrial habitats.
Adults live to about 10 years of age.
Defense and Sound
Adults produce sticky skin secretions to deter predators, and they can vocalize with squeaks and clicks, which might startle predators who capture them. (Hossack, B. R. 2002. natural history notes: Ambystoma macrodactylum krausei (northern long-toed salamander). Vocalization. Herpetological Review 33:121.)
Diet and Feeding
Transformed adults eat small invertebrates, including worms, mollusks, insects, and spiders.
Larvae start by eating small crustaceans. As they increase in size, they gradually consume larger prey items, including crustaceans, worms, mollusks, and frog tadoles.
Larger larvae may cannibalize smaller larvae.
Young larvae feed by sitting and waiting for prey, while larger larvae also stalk and pursue prey.
Reproduction is aquatic. Adults become sexually mature at 1 - 3 years, and migrate overland to the breeding site during nights with heavy rain from October through February with breeding occurring in January and February. Males enter the ponds before females.
Adults remain in the ponds from several days to more than a month.
Females lay from 90 - 400 eggs in clusters containing from 1 - 81 eggs in shallow water, attaching them singly or in loose clusters to the undersides of logs and branches, or leaving them unattached on the bottom.
Eggs hatch in 2 - 5 weeks.
Drying of ponds triggers transformation.
Larvae transform in 4 - 5 months in temporary ponds.
Larvae may not transform the first season.
Young remain at the pond sites until the first rains in the fall.
Found in dense riparian vegetation such as willows, thick coastal scrub, and oak woodland.
The species Ambystoma macrodactylum - Long-toed Salamander, is widespread in the West, occurring in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, western Canada, and Southeast Alaska.
This subspecies, Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum - Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander, is endemic to California, inhabiting a very limited range with scattered populations in a reported 11 locations (U.S.F.W. 1999.) around the coast of Monterey Bay in southern Santa Cruz County and the northern edge of Monterey County. It is thought to be a relict population, now isolated from the rest of its species.
Notes on Taxonomy
Five subspecies of Ambysoma macrodactylum are traditionally recognized, two occur in California: A. m. sigillatum A. m. croceum.
A 2015 study* has identified a sixth distinct group in the Central Oregon highlands, but suggested no changes in the taxonomy of the species.
(You can see this new group and my estimate of the ranges of all the subspecies described in the paper HERE.)
*(J. A. Lee-Yaw & D. E. Irwin, in The importance (or lack thereof) of niche divergence to the maintenance of a northern species complex: the case of the long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum Baird)
Journal of Evolutionary Biology 28 (2015) 917-930)
Ambystoma: anabystoma - to cram into the mouth. Possibly derived from Amblystoma: Greek - blunt mouth.
macrodactylum: Greek: long toe
croceum: Latin - saffron colored, referring to the dull orange dorsal stripe.
Thelander, Carl G., editor in chief. Life on the Edge - A Guide to California's Endangered Natural Resources - Wildlife. Berkeley: Bio Systems Books, 1994.
Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.
Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.
Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.
Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.
Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.
Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Amphibians of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.
Bishop, Sherman C. Handbook of Salamanders. Cornell University Press, 1943.
Lannoo, Michael (Editor). Amphibian Declines: The Conservation Status of United States Species. University of California Press, June 2005.
Petranka, James W. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution, 1998.
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the November 2020 California "Special Animals List" and the November 2020 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.
NatureServe Global Ranking
G5 T1 T2
Subspcies Criticially Imperiled - Imperiled