A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Limestone Salamander - Hydromantes brunus

Gorman, 1954
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Limestone Salamander Range MapRed: Range in California

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Map with California County Names

observation link

Limestone Salamander
Adult, Mariposa County
Limestone Salamander Limestone Salamander Limestone Salamander
Adult, Mariposa County Adult, Mariposa County Adult, Mariposa County
Limestone Salamander Limestone Salamander
Adult, Mariposa County Adult, Mariposa County Adult, Mariposa County
Limestone Salamander Limestone Salamander Limestone Salamander
Adult, Mariposa County Adult, Mariposa County Adult, Mariposa County
Limestone Salamander
Adult, Mariposa County Adult, Mariposa County
© Noah Morales
Adult, Mariposa County
© Noah Morales
  Limestone Salamander foot  
  The hind feet have webbed toes to help these salamanders climb steep rock surfaces.  
Limestone Salamander Limestone Salamander Limestone Salamander
Juvenile, Mariposa County Juvenile, Mariposa County Juvenile, Mariposa County
Limestone Salamander Limestone Salamander  
Juvenile, Mariposa County Juvenile, Mariposa County  
Limestone Salamander habitat Limestone Salamander habitat Limestone Salamander habitat
Habitat, Mariposa County Habitat, Mariposa County Habitat, Mariposa County
Limestone Salamander habitat Limestone Salamander habitat Limestone Salamander habitat
Habitat overview, Mariposa County Habitat, 1,500 ft., Mariposa County Habitat, Mariposa County
© Noah Morales
Short Video
Limestone Salamander Limestone Salamander  
An adult limestone salamander crawls down a limestone rock and underneath another one. A tiny juvenile limestone salamander is discovered when a rock is turned over. It is allowed to crawl outside of the footprint of the rock before the rock is replaced.  
Adults measure 2 - 3 inches long (5 - 7.5 cm) from snout to vent length.

A small stocky salamander with webbed toes, nasolabial grooves, a flattened head and body, and 13 costal grooves.
Toe tips of adpressed limbs overlap by 1.5 costal folds.
Color and Pattern
Adults are a brownish color above with a pale ventral surface.
Male / Female Differences
Males have an oval-shaped mental gland.
Juveniles are yellowish green above, darkening with age.

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.)
Little is known about this species.
H. brunus
is active during wet or rainy periods in fall, winter, and spring when temperatures are not exceedingly low, and inactive during extreme winter weather and during hot, dry periods in spring, summer, and fall.
They might also be active in summer well below the surface where there is sufficient moisture - an adult was found active in a mine tunnel in July.

Uses its tail and webbed feet to assist in climbing.
When threatened, this salamander has been observed coiling and rolling downhill to escape.
(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 consumes a variety of small invertebrates.
Little is known about the breeding behavior of this species.
Reproduction is terrestrial.
Females lay eggs most likely in deep moist talus or crevices in late spring.
Young develop completely in the egg and hatch fully formed in the summer..
Summer is hot and dry in the range of the Limestone Salamander, so hatchlings probably remain underground until at least the following fall rains.

H.brunus inhabits mossy limestone crevices and talus in the Grey Pine, Oak, Buckeye, Chaparral belt of the lower Merced River Canyon, typically on steep slopes. Has also been found in abandoned mine tunnels.

Geographical Range
Endemic to California. Found along the Merced River from Lake McClure to about 4 miles NE of Briceburg, Mariposa County. Also occurs along the Merced River tributaries including Bear Creek and its feeder creeks, south of Briceburg.

Notes on Taxonomy

Discovered in 1952, H. brunus has always been considered a distinct taxon.

H. brunus is one of five species of Hydromantes, all of which are endemic to California. The others are the three Shasta complex Hydromantes and H. platycephalus.

Eight species of similar salamanders once placed in the genus Hydromantes but now placed in the genus Speleomantes occur in Italy and southern France and on the island of Sardinia. 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/Speleomantes are found only in Europe and California is still a biogeographical mystery.

SSAR Herpetological Circular No. 43, 2017 shows the following note:
"Rovito (2010, Mol. Ecol. 19: 4554–4571) evaluated genetic variation in both mitochondrial and nuclear genes in H. brunus and H. platycephalus and those data supported the hypothesis that H. brunus was derived from H. platycephalus by peripatric speciation. Thus H. platycephalus is paraphyletic, but no changes in its taxonomy were suggested."

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Hydromantes brunus - Limestone Salamander (Stebbins 1966, 1985, 2003, 2012)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
This salamander is listed as a threatened species by the state, due to its limited range and habitat, although there is no indication that their range or population density have decreased or changed significantly. But there have not been any discoveries of new populations in many years, either.
Family Plethodontidae Lungless Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Hydromantes Web-toed Salamanders Gistel, 1848

brunus Limestone Salamander Gorman, 1954
Original Description
Gorman, 1954 - Herpetologica, Vol. 10, p. 153

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
brunus: Latin - brown, referring to the color of adults.

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

Related California Salamanders
Shasta Salamander
Samwel Shasta Salamander
Wintu Shasta Salamander
Mt. Lyell 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.

Flaxington, William C. Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History. Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.

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.

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the July 2022 State of California "Special Animals List" and the July 2022 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and can be downloaded here:
You can check this link to see if there are more current lists.

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found on the
Special Animals List. For quick reference, I have copied some of them on my Special Status Information page.

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.

Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking G2G3 Imperiled - Vulnerable
NatureServe State Ranking S2S3 Imperiled - Vulnerable
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) ST Listed as Threatened 6/27/1971
California Department of Fish and Wildlife FP Fully Protected
Bureau of Land Management S Sensitive
USDA Forest Service S Sensitive
IUCN VU Vulnerable

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