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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Barred Tiger Salamander - Ambystoma mavortium

Baird, 1850 “1849”

(= Ambystoma tigrinum)
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Tiger Salamander California Locations Red dots show some of the areas where populations of
Ambystoma mavortium (tigrinum) have been found in California.



observation link



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Introduced - not native to California

It is against the law to capture, move, possess, collect, or distribute this invasive species in California.

Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander
Blotched adult, Grass Lake, Siskiyou County © Alan Barron Blotched adult, Grass Lake, Siskiyou County © Alan Barron Blotched adult, 11.5 inches long, Grass Lake, Siskiyou County © Alan Barron
Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander
Greenish adult, Grass Lake, Siskiyou County © Alan Barron Spotted adult, Grass Lake, Siskiyou County © Alan Barron Blotched adult, Grass Lake, Siskiyou County © Alan Barron
Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamanders
Adult with remnant gills, Grass Lake, Siskiyou County © Alan Barron Adult, Grass Lake, Siskiyou County
© Alan Barron
Variously patterned adults, Grass Lake, Siskiyou County © Alan Barron
Barred Tiger Salamander    
Adult, Kern County. © William Flaxington    
     
Ambystoma mavortium x Ambystoma Californiense Hybrids
Tiger Salamander Hybrid Tiger Salamander Hybrid  
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.

Ambystoma mavortium melanostictum - Blotched Tiger Salamander
Blotched Tiger Salamander Blotched Tiger Salamander Blotched Tiger Salamander
Large larvae, in water, 7,000 ft. Wyoming
  Blotched Tiger Salamander  
  Large larvae, removed from water temporarily to show color.  
     
Ambystoma mavortium mavortium - Barred Tiger Salamander
Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander
Adult, found during a November rain in San Diego County © Sean Kelly Adult, Cochise County, Arizona
Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander
Adult, Lake County. Courtesy of Brad Schaeffer & Dylan Dietrich-Reed, UC Davis Adult, Cochise County, Arizona
Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander
  Adult, Cochise County, Arizona  
Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander Barred Tiger Salamander
  Adult, Cochise County, Arizona  
     
Ambystoma mavortium nebulosum - Arizona Tiger Salamander
Arizona Tiger Salamander Arizona Tiger Salamander Arizona Tiger Salamander
  Adult, Coconino County, Arizona  
Arizona Tiger Salamander Arizona Tiger Salamander Arizona Tiger Salamander
  Adult, Coconino County, Arizona  
Arizona Tiger Salamander Arizona Tiger Salamander  
Aquatic larvae,
Coconino County Arizona
Aquatic larvae,
Coconino County, Arizona
 
     
Habitat
Tiger Salamander Habitat Tiger Salamander Sign Tiger Salamander Habitat
Habitat, Grass Lake, 5,000 ft.
Siskiyou County
CalTrans sign, Siskiyou County
Habitat, Grass Lake, 5,000 ft.
Siskiyou County
     
Short Videos
Tiger Salamander Tiger Salamander  
A Barred Tiger Salamander crosses a wet road on an August night in the grasslands of Southeast Arizona.
An Arizona Tiger Salamander crosses a road in the mountains of Arizona on a
rainy summer night, moving away from a breeding pond and back into the woods.
 
   
Description
 
Size
Ambystoma mavortium is the second largest terrestrial salamander in North America, after Dicamptodon (the Giant Salamanders.)
Adults measure from 3 - 6.5 inches long (7.6 - 16.5 cm) from snout to vent.

Appearance
A large thick-bodied lunged salamander with small protuberant eyes, and a wide, round snout.
Tubercles are present on the underside of the feet.

Four morphs of A. mavortium are known:
Typical metamorphosed adults,
Cannibalistic metamorphosed adults,
Typical gilled adults,
Cannibalistic gilled adults
Color and Pattern
Bacground is yellowish - greenish with large dark bars across the upper body.

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.

In some cases adults do not transform from the aquatic larval stage to a terrestrial form, instead they stay in the water throughout their lives where they grow legs, reach adult size and breed, but retain their gills and finned tails.
This retention of juvenile features in an adult is called either paedomorphosis (also spelled pedomorphosis) or neoteny.
Adults are paedomorphic or paedomorphs, or neotenic adults and they are facultative paedomorphs - meaning that some individuals metamorphose while others do not. (There are some Ambystomatid species elsewhere where individuals never undergo metamorphosis. These are called obligate paedomorphs.
Activity
Adults spend much of their lives underground, often utilizing the tunnels of burrowing mammals such as moles and ground squirrels.


Adults spend most of their time burrowing underground, emerging occasionally on rainy nights and during migration to breeding ponds, which occurs on rainy nights.
Large neotenic adults are sometimes found.

Some adults in permanent wetlands without fish are neotenic (paedomorphic). Terrestrial adults burrow into the soil using their forelimbs, or use mammal burrows. During freezing conditions, terrestrial adults burrow below the frost line, while neotenic adults overwinter underwater.Males tend to be slightly smaller than females.
Longevity
Captive neotenic adults live as long as 25 years while captive terrestrial adults have lived as long as 16 years.
Defense
Terrestrial adults assume a defensive pose when threatened, raising up on their hind legs, arching the tail and waving it, and releasing sticky noxious secretions from skin glands along the top of the tail.
Diet and Feeding
Terrestrial adults feed on anything they can catch and overcome, mainly a variety of invertebrates, including insects and insect larvae and worms, along with some small vertebrates including lizards and mice and even small snakes.

Larvae feed on a wide range of invertebrates including insects and insect larvae, mollusks, leeches, crayfish, tadpoles, small fishes, and salamander larvae. Prey size increases as larvae grow larger.
Breeding
Reproduction is aquatic.
Fertilization is external with a male passing a spermatophore to a female.
Breeding occurs in seasonal wetlands and permanent wetlands without fish, including lakes, slow streams, cattle tanks, quarry ponds, and flooded ditches.

Adults migrate from overwintering sites to wetlands used for breeding.
Migration is usually triggered by warm spring rains a few weeks after ice melts in northern climates.
In California, this would typically be in November or in the late winter and spring, but it appears that in some areas they breed year-round. The Grass Lake population's breeding migration apparently occurs during heavy fall rains when they fall before the first freeze.

Males migrate before females, sometimes several weeks before, and stay longer at the breeding site where they usually outnumber the females.
Adults remain in the water for a short period - possibly up to a month.

California A. mavortium have been observed metamorphosing typically after they are 8 or 9 inches in length, with some adults remaining neotenic, sometimes exceeding 12 inches in length, as long as their pond doesn't dry out.
Eggs
Females lay an average of 38 - 59 eggs.
Depending on the subspecies, eggs are laid either singly, in clusters, or in strings, and are attached to submerged twigs and branches.
Eggs hatch in 8 - 9 days.
Young
Temperature, food supply, predation, and the persistence of water in the breeding wetlands all determine the length of the larval period, which is 10 weeks or more.
Larvae may overwinter, transforming the following year, or even later.
On rainy nights, newly-metamorphosed salamanders move overland from the breeding wetlands to upland sites which can be near the wetlands or some distance away.

Geographical Range
Ambystoma mavortium has been introduced into isolated locations in California.

At one time The Grass Lake population of A. m. melanostictum was thought to be natural, but they were apparently established from larvae used as fishbait that were obtained from the Great Plains region.

There is one population in California at MacDoel near the Oregon border, which, along with two other nearby popultaions in southern Oregon, are genetically similar to natural populations found in Washington and Oregon. These salamanders might represent either a natural or human-assisted expansion of salamanders from native populations in Washington and Oregon, or they might be native populations remnant from a large metapopulation of A. mavortium that was isolated when the deserts formed after the glaciers receded during the Pleistocene era, aproximately 14,000 years ago. (Johnson et al., 2010)

There has been so much interbreeding between different forms of alien tiger salamanders in California that it is not possible to know their exact origin and subspecies. Using genetic analysis of A. mavortium from many locations in the West, Johnson et al, 2010, determined that they have originated from multiple sources in the Great Plains region, "...introduced as a by-product of the sport fishing bait industry."

Introduced tiger salamanders found in California are variable in appearance. To illustrate some of the variety in the apparance of this species, several different subspecies from California and other western states are shown here.

Ambystoma mavortium - Barred Tiger Salamander, is the most widespread species of salamander in North America, ranging from the Atlantic coast from Long Island south to Florida, west as far as eastern Washington and Oregon, north into Canada, and south into Mexico. Within this range, some populations are introduced and some historical populations have been extirpated. Introduced into California.

The subspecies A. m. mavortium occurs naturally in parts of Texas, eastern New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and eastern Wyoming, and Colorado, and has been introduced into a large area of Southern Arizona.

The subspecies A. m. melanostictum occurs natually in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, the Dakotas, and barely into Oregon, Nebraska, Colorado and Utah, and north into British Columbia.

The subspecies A. m. nebulosum occurs natually in much of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, extending into small areas of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and most likely Mexico.

Habitat
Throughout their natural range,  Tiger Salamanders inhabit ponds, lakes, reservoirs, ditches, cattle ponds, temporary pools, and streams in a variety of types of vegetation - deserts, sagebrush, grassland, meadows, and forests.

Notes on Taxonomy
Some researchers have abandoned the recognition of subspecies of Ambystoma mavortium due to information on genetic variations in the species which may not support the traditionally-recognized subspecies.
Others have split Ambystoma. tigrinum into two species - the eastern tiger salamanders are Ambystoma tigrinum, and the western populations are Ambystoma mavortium.
The lack of uncertainy concerning the systematics of the group has also caused others to continue to use the traditional classification Ambystoma tigrinum.

Since alien A. mavortium larvae originated from more than one location and have hybridized with A. californiense in some locations, A. mavortium found in California are most likely genetically mixed and do not correspond to any particular subspecies.

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
Exotic species such as A. mavortium can dramatically disrupt native species, including fish and California Tiger Salamanders.

This species has been introduced into isolated locations in California as the result of escaped or intentionally released larvae that were used as sport fishing bait. Selling Tiger Salamander larvae for fish bait is now illegal in California. Expanding irrigation in arid areas has aided their spread and it is likely that the salamanders have also wandered and inhabited new wetlands.

Ambystoma mavortium hybridizes with the California Tiger Salamander. This represents anothe rvery serious threat to that species wich is already threatened by habitat loss, and introduced predators. Tiger Salamanders in the Salinas Valley are mostly hybrids that derived from intentional introductions of A. mavortium by the sport fishing bait industry. (Johnson et al., 2010)

All species of tiger salamanders are at threat from the continued alteration and destruction of wetlands, including introduced fishes. Deforestation and acidification of wetlands are also problems for some populations.

It is against the law to capture, move, possess, collect, or distribute this invasive species in California.
See: California Department of Fish and Game Restricted Species Regulations
Taxonomy
Family Ambystomatidae Mole Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Ambystoma Mole Salamanders Tschudi, 1838
Species

mavortium (tigrinum) Barred Tiger Salamander Baird, 1850 “1849”
Original Description
Baird, 1850 - Journ. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Ser. 2, No. 1, p. 284 and p. 292

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.
mavortium
: Latin - war-like, referring to Mars, Roman god of war.

(melanostictum: Greek - black spotted, referring to light spotting on dark dorsum.)
(nebulosum: Latin - cloudy.)

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

Alternate Names
Ambystoma tigrinum

Related or Similar California Salamanders
California Tiger 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.

Jarrett R. Johnson, Robert C. Thomson, Steven J. Micheletti, H. Bradley Shaffer. The origin of tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) populations in California, Oregon, and Nevada: introductions or relicts? Conservation Genetics. Received: 19 November 2009 / Accepted: 19 September 2010.

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.


It is against the law to capture, move, possess, collect, or distribute this invasive species.
See: California Department of Fish and Game Restricted Species Regulations


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

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