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California Tiger Salamander - Ambystoma californiense

Gray, 1853
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California Tiger Salamander range map
Range in California: Red

Dot-locality Range Map




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Transformed Adults and Juveniles
CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander
Adult, Alameda County Adult, Solano County. © Gary Nafis.
Specimen courtesy of Brad Schaeffer & Dylan Dietrich-Reed, UC Davis.
Adult, Alameda County Adult, Alameda County
CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander
Adult, Alameda County Adult, Madera County
© David Tobler
Adult, Santa Cruz County Adult, Monterey County
CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander
Adult, Solano County. © Melissa Newman Juvenile, Solano County.
© Melissa Newman
Juvenile, Solano County.
© Melissa Newman
Juvenile, Solano County.
© Melissa Newman
CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander
Adult, Alameda County Transformed juvenile observed on a rainy night in November, probably
leaving a breeding pond, in Contra Costa County. © Chad Lane
Adult, San Joaquin County
CA Tiger Salamanders CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander
Juveniles from a pit trap study, Solano County. © Melissa Newman Juvenile, Santa Clara County. © Jon Hirt Adult, San Joaquin County.
© James Rexroth
CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander    
Adult female, Solano County (captured and handled under Federal Recovery Permit and released at point of capture.) © Adam Clause Metamorph, Solano County (captured and handled under Federal Recovery Permit and released at point of capture.)
© Adam Clause
   
       
Santa Barbara County Population
CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander
Adult, Santa Barbara County. © Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of Brad Schaeffer & Dylan Dietrich-Reed, UC Davis. Adult, Santa Barbara County. © Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of Brad Schaeffer & Dylan Dietrich-Reed, UC Davis.

Herpetologist Sam Sweet has made an outstanding illustrated report of a survey for Santa Barbara Tiger Salamanders on a public herping
forum showing the habitat, many larval salamanders, and a recent metamorph, which you can see along with the ensuing discussion here.

Sonoma County Population
CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander  
Tiny juvenile, Sonoma County
© Edgar Ortega
Adult, Sonoma County
© Edgar Ortega
Adult, Sonoma County
© Edgar Ortega
 
       
Ambystoma mavortium - Barred Tiger Salamander Hybrids
CA Tiger Salamander CA Tiger Salamander    
Monterey County adult hybrid of A. t. mavortium - Barred Tiger Salamander and A. californiense. © Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of Brad Schaeffer & Dylan Dietrich-Reed, UC Davis.
   

Herpetologist Sam Sweet has made a fascinating public forum post regarding introduced tiger salamanders hybridizing
with California Tiger salamanders in Santa Barbara County which you can see along with the ensuing discussion here.

Eggs
CA Tiger Salamander Eggs CA Tiger Salamander Eggs CA Tiger Salamander Eggs CA Tiger Salamander Eggs
Eggs out of water, Alameda County
© Joseph E. DiDonato
Eggs out of water, Alameda County
© Joseph E. DiDonato
Eggs out of water, Alameda County
© Joseph E. DiDonato
Eggs out of water, Alameda County
© Joseph E. DiDonato
CA Tiger Salamander Eggs CA Tiger Salamander Egg CA Tiger Salamander Eggs CA Tiger Salamander Eggs
Eggs out of water, Alameda County
© Joseph E. DiDonato
One egg photographed out of the water
© Bill Stagnaro
Eggs on a small stick underwater
© Bill Stagnaro
Eggs, Monterey County
© Shirley Tudor
CA Tiger Salamander Eggs      
Eggs, Santa Clara County © Rob Schell      
       
Larvae
CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larvae CA Tiger Salamander Larva
Newly hatched larva, Sonoma County.
© Bill Stagnaro
Newly hatched larva, Sonoma County.
© Bill Stagnaro
Larva with Sierran Treefrog tadpoles, Alameda County. © Joseph E. DiDonato Larva showing pigment development, Alameda County © Joseph E. DiDonato
CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva
Light colored larva, Alameda County.
© Joseph E. DiDonato
Larvae swimming in breeding pond in late June, Contra Costa County
CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva
  Larvae swimming in breeding pond in late June, Contra Costa County  
CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva
Mature Larva in water. © Gary Nafis. Specimen courtesy of Brad Schaeffer & Dylan Dietrich-Reed, UC Davis. Larva, Contra Costa County, netted in an amphibian survey in late August. Larva in breeding pond in early June, Contra Costa County. © Chad M. Lane
CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larva CA Tiger Salamander Larvae
Larva caught by Giant Water Bug nymph, (Lethocerus sp.) which will kill it by injecting a digestive saliva then sucking out the liquefied remains. Alameda County. © Joseph E. DiDonato Egg and larva, Monterey County
© Shirley Tudor
Pale, possibly albino, larva, Alameda County, seined by Permitted biologists.
© Michael Starkey


Larvae, Santa Clara County © Rob Schell
       
Habitat
tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat
Breeding pond, Alameda County Breeding pond, Alameda County
tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat
Native prairie with vernal pool breeding habitat in winter, Solano County Historical habitat from museum records that has been developed for agriculture, Santa Barbara County.
tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat
Grasslands habitat, Merced County Breeding pond, Alameda County Habitat, Alameda County Habitat, Alameda County
tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat
Habitat, Alameda County Habitat, Santa Cruz County Habitat, Sonoma County Habitat, Alameda County
       
Seasonal Views of a California Tiger Salamander Breeding Pond

One habitat picture can never show the whole story, so follow this link to see even more pictures of the Contra Costa County pond
seen below as it looked in different months of different years, showing how the pond and its surroundings change over the seasons.

tiger salamander habitat
tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat
January 2012 February 2011 March 2006 April 2013  © Mark Gary
tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat
May 2011 June 2010 July 2013 © Mark Gary August 2010
tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat tiger salamander habitat
September 2013 © Mark Gary October 2013  © Mark Gary November 2011  © Mark Gary December 2013 © Mark Gary
       
California Tiger Salamander Association With California Ground Squirrels
 California Ground Squirrel burrows California Ground Squirrel burrows California Ground Squirrel burrows  
California Ground Squirrel burrows California Ground Squirrel burrows California Ground Squirrel burrows  
A California Tiger Salamander spends most of its life underground. California Ground Squirrel burrows, such as those seen here, are often a very important part of the habitat of these salamanders. An active population of burrowing ground squirrels (or other burrowing mammals) is necessary to sustain sufficient underground refuge for the salamanders since burrows that are not maintained will collapse within about 18 months.
 
Short Videos
  tiger salamander larva salamander  
  California Tiger Salamander larvae swim around a murky pool in Contra Costa County, rising to the surface for a gulp of air or to attempt to eat Sierran Treefrog tadpoles.  
   
Description
 
Size
Adults are 3-5 inches (7.6 - 12.7 cm) long from snout-to-vent, 5.9 - 8.5 inches (15-22 cm) total length.

Appearance
A large stout salamander with a short rounded head, blunt snout, small protruberant eyes, no nasolabial grooves, and a tail flattened from side to side to facilitate swimming.
Usually has 12 prominent costal grooves.
Transformed adults breathe with lungs.
Color and Pattern
Lustrous black with large yellow spots and bars, often not present along the middle of the back.
South coast individuals may have few spots and a cream band on the lower sides.
Young
Larvae are yellowish gray with broad caudal fins that extend well onto the back, broad flat heads, and bushy gills

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 are born in the 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.
Activity
Nocturnal, and fossorial, spending most time underground in animal burrows, especially those of California ground squirrels, valley pocket gophers, and moles. An active population of burrowing mammals is necessary to sustain sufficient underground refuge for the salamanders since burrows that are not maintained will collapse within about 18 months. This salamander needs both suitable upland terrestrial habitat with mammal burrows for refuge and temporary breeding ponds in order to survive.  

Aestivation may occur during the heat of summer, but this salamander does not need to hibernate due to the mild winters that occur in its range. Adults live to at least 11 years of age. Emerges at night with the fall rains sometimes in early November or later depending on precipitation.

Larvae are aquatic and very wary, resting motionless on the bottom when not feeding, but swimming for cover when disturbed.
Neotenic adults have not been reported, likely due to the ephemeral nature of the larval ponds.
Diet and Feeding
Adults probably feed mainly on a variety of invertebrates.
Hatchlings feed on zooplankton and older larvae feed on tadpoles (mostly Pseuadcris tadpoles) and aquatic invertebrates.
Predators
Predators include California Red-legged Frogs, American Bullfrogs, Gartersnakes, Skunks, and Ground Squirrels.
Breeding
Reproduction is aquatic in standing water.
Most breeding occurs December through February.
Breeding can occur explosively all at once, or it can continue for several months depending on rainfall.

Most breeding adults are 4 - 6 years old.
Males breed at 2 years of age, females at 2 - 3 years.

Adults engage in mass migration during a few rainy nights during the rainy season from November to May and leave the breeding ponds shortly after breeding.
During years without sufficient rainfall, migrations and breeding do not occur.
Most adults return to their natal pond during their first year of breeding, but a study showed that about 30 percent bred in a different pond.
Males arrive at the breeding pond a week or two before the females, and stay about four times longer - an average of 37 - 44.7 days according to two studies, while females averaged stays of 10 - 11.8 days.

Breeding usually occurs in fish-free ephemeral ponds that form during winter and dry out in summer, but some salamanders may also breed in slow streams and in some semi-permanent waters, including cattle ponds, probably due to the loss of ehpemeral ponds in their habitat.
Eggs
Females lay eggs and attach them to underwater vegetation incuding grass stems, leaves, and twigs, and sometimes to objects such as metal wire.
In one study, females contained 413 - 1,340 eggs, averaging 814.
Eggs are laid singly or in groups of 2 - 4.
Egg color is pale yellow or brownish and about 2 mm in diameter.
Eggs hatch in 2 to 4 weeks.
Larvae
The larval stage lasts 4 - 5 months.
Larvae undergoe metamorphosis during the summer, peaking from mid June to mid July, and migrate away from the ponds at night under wet or dry conditions, sheltering in soil cracks and animal burrows.

Geographical Range
Endemic to California.

The historic range of this species is not well known because it has been fragmented, but they were probably distributed throughout most of the Central Valley where there was suitable vernal pool and grassland habitat, from Tulare County north to at least Yolo County, and in the south coast ranges from San Luis Obispo County north to Monterey Bay and north, east of the Bay Area. Isolated populations now occur in the Sacramento Valley at Gray Lodge National Wildlife Refuge and near Dunnigan. Two other populations have been isolated from the rest of the range long enough that they may constitute two unique species - one in Sonoma County near Santa Rosa, and another in Santa Barbara County.

Currently, most populations in the Central Valley have been extirpated, and the remainder are found in the surrounding foothills.

My range map shows current, not historic distribution of California Tiger Salamanders. It is based mostly on information in a 2010 report 3 which uses data from the 2009 California Department of Fish and Game California Natural Diversity Data Base, which itself uses distribution data from a complete range-wide A. californiense survey made by by Shaffer et al. 1993. 4

Habitat
Frequents grassland, oak savanna, and edges of mixed woodland and lower elevation coniferous forest.

Notes on Taxonomy
Shaffer et al (2004) 5   found six genetically and geographically coherent sets of California Tiger Salamander populations. Four show limited genetic intermixing where they share boundaries. The Sonoma County and Santa Barbara County populations are genetically distinct and have been geographically isolated from other populations for about a million years. Each may constitute a unique species.

At one time considered a subspecies of Ambystoma tigrinum.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
This species is protected by California State and Federal laws.

A threatened species - estimated to have disappeared from more than 50 percent of its historic range. Many populations have been extirpated due to loss of or fragmentation of suitable habitat through urbanization and agriculture. Eradication of California Ground Squirrels due to concerns about their effect on cattle grazing and agriculture may also threaten populations of this salamander because of its reliance on ground squirrel burrows. Predation by non-native Bullfrogs also appears to be a threat.

Hybridization with non-native Tiger Salamanders also threatens the continuity of this species. A 2007 study1 found that when California Tiger Salamanders hybridize with non-native Tiger Salamanders, more of the hybrid offspring survived in the wild than did the young of the non-native Tiger Salamanders or the native California Tiger Salamanders. A 2009 study2 found that tiger salamander hybridization might even pose a threat to other threatened pond-breeding species.
Taxonomy
Family Ambystomatidae Mole Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Ambystoma Mole Salamanders Tschudi, 1838
Species

californiense California Tiger Salamander Gray, 1853
Original description
Gray, 1853 - Proc. Zool. Soc. London, Vol. 21, p. 11, pl.

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Ambystoma: anabystoma - to cram into the mouth. Possibly derived from Amblystoma: Greek - blunt mouth.
californiense
: belonging to the state of California.

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

Alternate Names
Formerly known as Ambystoma tigrinum californiense - California Tiger Salamander

Related or Similar California Salamanders
Barred Tiger Salamander
Blotched Tiger Salamander
Arizona Tiger Salamander
Southern Long-toed Salamander
Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander
Large-Blotched Ensatina

More Information and References
California Tiger Salamander Breeding Activity Blog Page

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

AmphibiaWeb

Center for Biological Diversity

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.

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.

1 Benjamin M. Fitzpatrick and H. Bradley Shaffer. Hybrid vigor between native and introduced salamanders raises new challenges for conservation.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 2, 2007 vol. 104 no. 40 15793–15798.
www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0704791104

2 Maureen E. Ryana, Jarrett R. Johnson, and Benjamin M. Fitzpatrick.  Invasive hybrid tiger salamander genotypes impact native amphibians.
pnas July 7,2009 vol. 106 no. 27 11169.
www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0902252106

3 The State of California Natural Resources Agency Department of Fish and Game
Report to the Fish and Game Commission - A Status Review of the California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense) January 11, 2010.

4 Shaffer, H.B., R.N. Fisher, and S.E. Stanley. 1993. Status Report: The California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense). Final report to California Department of Fish and Game, Inland Fisheries Division, Contract #FG9422 and FG1393.

5 Shaffer, H.B., G.B. Pauly, J.C. Oliver, and P.C. Trenham. 2004. The molecular phylogenetics of endangerment: cryptic variation and historical phylogeography of the California tiger salamander, Ambystoma californiense. Molecular Ecology 13:3033-3049


Conservation Status

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


These listings apply to the species as a whole except where shown below for the CESA and the ESA.



Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) See Below
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) See Below
California Department of Fish and Wildlife DFG:SSC California Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
The status of the California Tiger Salamander - Ambystoma californiense, is listed for the entire species and for three separate regions.

  State Listing Federal Listing
California Tiger Salamander ST - 8/19/10 Threatened (FE ) (FT) Endangered / Threatened
Central California DPS (ST) Threatened FT - 9/03/04 Threatened
Santa Barbara County DPS (ST) Threatened FE - 9/15/00 Endangered
Sonoma County DPS (ST) Threatened FE - 3/19/00 Endangered
 

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