A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Shasta Salamander - Hydromantes shastae

Gorman and Camp, 1953
Click on a picture for a larger view

Shasta Salamander range mapRange in California: Red

Dot-locality Range Map

observation link

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Adult, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County
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Adult, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County
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Adult and juvenile, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County © Jon Hirt
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Adult, Shasta County © Luke Talltree Underside of adult, Shasta County Adult, Shasta County. Notice
how flattened the body is to allow the salamander to more easily crawl into cracks.
Shasta Salamander      
Webbed toes make it easier for Shasta Salamanders to climb slippery vertical rocks.      
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Adult, Shasta County Juvenile, Shasta County Juvenile, Shasta County Juvenile, Shasta County
Shasta Salamander habitat Shasta Salamander habitat Shasta Salamander habitat Shasta Salamander habitat
Habitat, Shasta County Habitat, Shasta County Habitat, Shasta County Habitat, 1,500 ft., Shasta County
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Habitat, Shasta County Habitat, Shasta County Habitat, Shasta County

Adult in habitat, Shasta County
© Jon Hirt
Short Video
Shasta Salamander      
A brief look at adult and juvenile Shasta Salamanders, that refused to move very much for the camera.      
Adults measure 1 3/4 - 2 1/2 inches long (4.4 - 6.3 cm) from snout to vent length, and from 3 - 4 1/3 inches (7.5 - 11 cm) in total length.

A small stocky salamander with a short tail, webbed feet, a flattened body, and a very long mushroom-like tongue capable of extending out up to 2.4 inches (6 cm) from the front of the mouth.
13 costal grooves, and nasolabial grooves.
Not as adapted for crack dwelling as other Hydromantes species with less toe webbing and the body is not as flattened.
Color and Pattern
Dark reddish brown above, mottled with grayish green to tan specks, with some yellow on the tail.
Venter is grayish.

Life History and Behavior
A member of family Plethodontidae, the Plethodontid or Lungless Salamanders.

Plethodontid salamanders do not breathe through lungs. They conduct respiration through their skin and the tissues lining their mouth. This requires them to live in damp environments on land and to move about on the ground only during times of high humidity. (Plethodontid salamanders native to California do not inhabit streams or bodies of water but they are capable of surviving for a short time if they fall into water.)

Plethodontid salamanders are also distinguished by their naso-labial grooves, which are vertical slits between the nostrils and upper lip that are lined with glands associated with chemoreception.

All Plethodontid Salamanders native to California lay eggs in moist places on land.
The young develop in the egg and hatch directly into a tiny terrestrial salamander with the same body form as an adult.
(They do not hatch in the water and begin their lives as tiny swimming larvae breathing through gills like some other types of salamanders.)
Active at night during fall, winter, and spring rains.
They may also be active underground in the summer - over 20 were discovered in a cave in August.
Can be found under surface objects during daytime.
Adapted to climb easily over smooth rock surfaces, using webbed feet and the tail as an aid.
Defense mechanisms include raising up the head and tail and flattening the body, producing sticky toxic skin secretions, and tightly coiling the body and tail and rolling downhill (the same escape tactic used by other Hydromantes species.) (You can watch a short video of a different species of salamander using this coiling, rolling and springing escape technique here.)
Diet and Feeding
Probably feeds on insects and other small invertebrates.
Little is known about breeding behavior.
Reproduction is terrestrial.
Females apparently lay eggs in moist limestone shelters in late summer and brood them until they hatch in late fall. 
Two clutches of 9 eggs were found in a cave by Gorman in 1956.
They would have hatched in late October or early November.
Young develop completely in the egg and hatch fully formed.

Found around cliff faces, vertical cavern walls and level ground in mixed forests of Douglas fir, pines, and oaks. Lives in moist caves and rock cracks. Mostly associated with limestone outcrops, but one population has been found in a volcanic outcrop, and others in forest areas with no rock outcrops.

Geographical Range
Endemic to California in a fairly small area in the Cascade range near man-made Shasta Lake, Shasta County.
Elevational Range

Most locations where H. shastae have been found are at elevations between 800 - 2000 ft. (244 - 610 meters.)
In 2007 a single adult was found at 3,800 ft. (1158 meters) on Bohemotash Mountain in Shasta County.
(Len Lindstrand III. California Fish and Game 94[2):119-121. 2008)

Notes on Taxonomy
Originally discovered in the early 1900's by Eustace Farlong, but not formally described until they were re-discovered by Joseph Gorman in 1950.
(Joe Gorman and C. L. Camp. A New Cave Species of Salamander of the Genus Hydromantes from California, with Notes on Habits and Habitat. Copeia Vol. 1953, No. 1 [Feb. 26, 1953], pp. 39-43)

H. shastae is one of only three species of Hydromantes in the United States, all of which are endemic to California, including H. brunus, and H. platycephalus. The only other members of the genus Hydromantes (now called Speleomantes by some researchers) occur in Italy and southern France. They are the only plethodontid salamanders found outside of the Americas. (A new species of lungless salamander found in Asia in 2004 was placed in a new genus.) Why Hydromantes is found only in Europe and California is still an amazing biogeographical mystery, even though it is now accepted that the two populations are different, but similar, genera.

H. shastae may represent two or more species

In Detecting Cryptic Species Using Allozyme Data, (Bruce, Jaeger and Houck (editors) The Biology of Plethodontid Salamanders, 2000.) Richard Highton suggests that Hydromantes shastae consists of two species. He describes a 1978 allozyme analysis by Wake et al of 5 samples from near Lake Shasta that showed one sample from near Potter and Marble Creeks diverging from the other four, and recognized that it might represent a separate species, though he did not recommend any taxonomic changes. The four other samples are closer genetically to H. platycephalus than they are to the Potter-Marble Creek form.

"This species shows great genetic substructuring, especially unusual given its small geographic range (Wake et al., 1978). The genetic data were analyzed by Larson et al. (1984), who found that the species conforms to a genetic structure and pattern of gene flow in accordance with an island model ... which means that effectively no species-wide gene flow is taking place now or in the recent past." (David Wake and Theodore Papenfuss in Lanoo 2005)

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Hydromantes shastae - Shasta Salamander (Stebbins 1954, 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Listed as a threatened species by the state.
The limited habitat of this species is threatened by increased recreation around Shasta Lake, limestone quarrying, and raising of lake water levels. Much of its habitat was probably lost in the construction of Shasta Dam in 1949, and from road building and mining.
Family Plethodontidae Lungless Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Hydromantes Web-toed Salamanders Gistel, 1848

shastae Shasta Salamander Gorman and Camp, 1953
Original Description
Gorman and Camp, 1953 - Copeia, p. 39

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Hydromantes: Greek - water/soothsayer or prophet.
shastae: Shasta County, California, the type locality.

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related California Salamanders
Mt. Lyell Salamander
Limestone Salamander

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife


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.

Gorman, J. and Camp, C. L. (1953). "A new cave species of salamander of the genus Hydromantes from California, with notes on habits and habitats." Copeia, 1953, 39-43.

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. 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.

Jones, Lawrence L. C. , William P. Leonard, Deanna H. Olson, editors. Amphibians of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle Audubon Society, 2005.

Conservation Status

The following status listings are copied from the 2017 Special Animals List and the 2017 Endangered and Threatened Animals List which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW 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.

Check here to see the most current complete lists.

Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking G1G2 Critically Imperiled - Imperiled
NatureServe State Ranking S3

Vulnerable in the state due to a restricted range, relatively few populations (often 80 or fewer), recent and widespread declines, or other factors making it vulnerable to extirpation from the state.

U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) ST - 6/27/71 Threatened
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management S Sensitive
USDA Forest Service S Sensitive
IUCN VU Vulnerable

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