A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander -
Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum

Russell and Anderson, 1956
Click on a picture for a larger view

Range in California: Blue

Red: Southern Long-toed Salamander

Dot-locality Range Map

observation link

Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander
Adult, Santa Cruz County
Adult, Santa Cruz County
Adult, Santa Cruz County
© Brad Alexander
Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander
Adult, Monterey County © Zach Lim Adult, Monterey County © Zach Lim Adult, Monterey County © Zach Lim
Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander Southern Long-toed Salamander
Adult, Santa Cruz County Adult, Monterey County © Dave Feliz Toe number 4 on each hind foot
is elongated, giving this species its name.
Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander  
Juvenile, Santa Cruz County
© Jon Hirt
Juvenile, Santa Cruz County
© Jon Hirt

Pictures of Long-toed Salamander Eggs, Larvae, and Young

Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander habitat Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander habitat Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander habitat
Breeding pond, fall,
Santa Cruz County
Breeding pond, winter,
Santa Cruz County
Breeding pond, late winter
Santa Cruz County
Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander habitat Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander habitat  
Habitat, Monterey County © Dave Feliz Habitat, wildlife refuge,
Santa Cruz County
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 occuring 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.

Geographical Range
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

The species Ambystoma macrodactylum - Long-toed Salamander, is widespread in the west, occuring in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, western Canada, and Southeast Alaska.

Full Species Range Map
Found in dense riparian vegetation such as willows, thick coastal scrub, and oak woodland.

Notes on Taxonomy
Four subspecies of Ambysoma macrodactylum are recognized, two occur in California.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
This subspecies is listed as federally endangered and heavily protected due to its limited range combined with loss of habitat to land development.
Family Ambystomatidae Mole Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Ambystoma Mole Salamanders Tschudi, 1838
Species macrodactylum Long-toed Salamander Baird, 1849

croceum Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander Russell and Anderson, 1956
Original Description
Ambystoma macrodactylum - Baird, 1849 - Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Ser. 2, Vol. 1, p. 292
Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum - Russell and Anderson, 1956 - Herpetologica, Vol. 12, p. 137

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.
Greek: long toe
: Latin - saffron colored, referring to the dull orange dorsal stripe.

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

Alternate Names

Related or Similar California Salamanders
Southern Long-toed Salamander
California Tiger Salamander

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife


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.

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 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.

Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) FE - 3/11/67 Endangered
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) SE - 6/27/71 Endangered
California Department of Fish and Wildlife DFG:FP Fully Protected
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None

Home Site Map About Us Identification Lists Maps Photos More Lists CA Snakes CA Lizards CA Turtles CA Salamanders CA Frogs
Contact Us Usage Resources Rattlesnakes Sounds Videos FieldHerping Yard Herps Behavior Herp Fun CA Regulations
Beyond CA All Herps

Return to the Top

 © 2000 -