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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Southern Long-toed Salamander -
Ambystoma macrodactylum sigillatum

Ferguson, 1961
Click on a picture for a larger view



Long-toed Salamanders California Range MapRange in California: Red

Blue: Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander

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Southern Long-toed Salamander Southern Long-toed Salamander Southern Long-toed Salamander
Adult, Alpine County Adult, Alpine County Juvenile, Alpine County
Southern Long-toed Salamander Southern Long-toed Salamander Southern Long-toed Salamander
Adult, Alpine County (missing the fingers of one hand) Toe number 4 on each hind foot
is elongated, giving this species its name.
Southern Long-toed Salamander Southern Long-toed Salamander Southern Long-toed Salamanders
Adult, Butte County
© Mela Garcia
Adult, Plumas County
© Alan Barron
Normal and melanistic adults,
Alpine County
     
Larvae
Southern Long-toed Salamander larva Southern Long-toed Salamander larva Southern Long-toed Salamander larva
Older aquatic larva, Siskiyou County.
Southern Long-toed Salamander larva Southern Long-toed Salamander larva  
Old larva, with legs tucked in for swimming, Siskiyou County Old Larva, Alpine County  
     

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

 
Habitat
Southern Long-toed Salamander habitat Southern Long-toed Salamander habitat Southern Long-toed Salamander habitat
Breeding pond, late Spring,
8,300 ft., Alpine County
Breeding pond, late Spring,
8,500 ft., Alpine County
Breeding pond, late Spring,
8,400 ft., Alpine County
Southern Long-toed Salamander habitat Southern Long-toed Salamander habitat Southern Long-toed Salamander habitat
Breeding pond, late summer,
6,000 ft. Siskiyou County.
Breeding pond, late Spring,
8,400 ft., Alpine County
Breeding pond, late Spring,
8,500 ft., Alpine County
  Southern Long-toed Salamander habitat  
  Breeding pond, late Spring,
8,300 ft., Alpine County
 
     
Short Videos
Southern Long-toed Salamander larva Southern Long-toed Salamander larva  
A larval Southern Long-toed salamander swims around in an aquarium, using its legs, body and tail to propel itself.

Larval Southern Long-toed salamanders swim around in a pond in a forest clearing on a sunny September day in Siskiyou County.  
   
Description
 
Size
Adults are 1 3/5 to 3 1/2 inches long (4.1 - 8.9 cm) from snout to vent, 4 to 6 2/3 inches (10 - 17 cm) in total length.

Appearance
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.
Large untransformed aquatic adults have gills on either side of the head.
Color and Pattern
Dusky or black above with a yellow dorsal stripe, usually interrupted by dark blotches. The sides are sprinkled with whitish specks. The venter is grey or black.
Young
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.
Activity
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 which can include ponds, lakes, and streams, 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 and juveniles migrate to breeding sites in Winter and Spring, and again to wintering locations in the fall. Larvae slow down their activity and winter under the ice resting under debris on the bottom of the water.

At some low-elevation locations (typically not in California) they may remain active all year.
Longevity
Adults live to about 10 years of age.
Sound
Adult Long-toed Salamanders 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.)
Defense
Adults produce sticky skin secretions to deter predators.
Diet and Feeding
Carnivorous.
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.
Breeding
Reproduction is aquatic.
Breeding occurs in permanent or temporary ponds, lakes and flooded meadows.
Adults become sexually mature at 1 - 3 years, and migrate overland from wintering sites to the breeding site in spring and early summer or later in years with a heavy snowpack.
Adults sometimes enter ponds not yet free of ice.
(In Oregon, Long-toed Salamanders may migrate to ponds in October and November.

Males enter the ponds before females.
Females spend approximately 3 weeks at a breeding site, but individual females only stay at the site for 1 - 2 days, and do not feed there.
Males feed at breeding sites, so they can stay at the site for the entire breeding season, which may last 2 months or more.
Eggs
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.
Young
Larvae transform at different rates depending on temperature and the permanence of the pool.
Transformation may take 4 - 5 months in temporary ponds, but they may not transform until their second or third season at high elevations.
After transformation they disperse away from the breeding site.

Geographical Range
In California, this subspecies, Ambystoma macrodactylum sigillatum - Southern Long-toed Salamander, occurs in the Northeast and along the northern Sierra Nevada south to Garner Meadows and Spicer Reservoir, and in Trinity and Siskiyou Counties near the Trinity Alps. It also occurs in southwestern Oregon.

The species Ambystoma macrodactylum - Long-toed Salamander, is widespread in the west, occuring in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, western Canada, and Southeast Alaska.
Elevational Range
Found at elevations up to about 10,000 ft.

Habitat
Inhabits alpine meadows, high mountain ponds and lakes.

Notes on Taxonomy
Four subspecies of Ambysoma macrodactylum are recognized, two occur in California:
A. m. sigillatum
A. m. croceum.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
This salamander does not appear to be in decline, however some populations might be at risk due to introduced fish and deforestation. UV-B radiation is another possible threat to high-altitude populations.

Protected from take with a sport fishing license in 2013.
Taxonomy
Family Ambystomatidae Mole Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Ambystoma Mole Salamanders Tschudi, 1838
Species macrodactylum Long-toed Salamander Baird, 1849
Subspecies

sigillatum Southern Long-toed Salamander Ferguson, 1961
Original Description
Ambystoma macrodactylum - Baird, 1849 - Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Ser. 2, Vol. 1, p. 292
Ambystoma macrodactylum sigillatum - Ferguson, 1961 - Amer. Midland Nat., Vol. 65, 1961, p. 316

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.
macrodactylum:
Greek - long toe
sigillatum
: Latin - adorned with images or figures, referring to the color pattern.

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

Alternate Names
None

Related or Similar California Salamanders
Santa Cruz Long-toed salamander
California Tiger Salamander
Western Long-toed Salamander
Central Long-toed Salamander

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

AmphibiaWeb

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.


Corkran, Charlotte & Chris Thoms. Amphibians of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Lone Pine Publishing, 1996.

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

Leonard et. al. Amphibians of Washington and Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society, 1993.

Nussbaum, R. A., E. D. Brodie Jr., and R. M. Storm. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. Moscow, Idaho: University Press of Idaho, 1983.

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.


 


Organization
Status Listing
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife SSC California Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
 

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