Wandering Salamanders inhabit the canopies of
massive redwood trees such as these.
Habitat, Humboldt County
Habitat, Humboldt County
A couple of Wandering Salamanders discovered at the edge of a creek in the redwoods during a dry period in late June.
Adults are 1 4/5 - 3 inches long (4.6 - 7.6 cm) from snout to vent, 3 - 5 inches (7.5 -13 cm) in total length.
A medium-sized salamander.
Slim, long-legged, adapted for climbing with long squared-off toes and rounded prehensile tail.
Usually 16 costal grooves.
Two nasolabial grooves.
Color and Pattern
Dark brown, to pale gray ground color, clouded with greenish gray, pale gold, or reddish blotches scattered with brassy flecks.
Male / Female Differences
Males have broader, more triangular heads than females.
Young have a copper or brassy dorsal stripe.
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.)
Active on wet nights.
One of the most arboreal salamanders in California, found up to 40 m. above ground.
Often forages from beneath bark or logs, sitting still, waiting for small invertebrate prey to come close.
Wandering Salamanders do not appear to be as aggressive and territorial like A. ferreus, and they do not use chemical signals in their fecal pellets to mark their teritories.
Defense tactics include crawling away quickly, remaining motionless, raising up on the legs and waving the tail, and making fast jerky motions, then remaining still.
Diet and Feeding
A generalist feeder, consuming a variety of small invertebrates, including ants, mites, beetles, and isopods. Juveniles eat small prey items at first, with the size of prey increasing as the juveniles grow larger.
Reproduction is terrestrial.
Breeding males have a well-developed mental gland.
Males appear to be sexually mature in their second year, females in their third year.
Females lay from 6 - 9 eggs in moist places on land in spring and early summer.
Eggs have been found under the bark of a rotting Douglas fir log and at the base of a tree limb high up a tree.
Females probably stay with the eggs until they hatch.
Young develop completely in the egg and hatch fully formed.
Juveniles are likely to prefer bark litter over rock or leaf litter.
Occurs in coastal forests of Douglas fir, cedar, alder, and redwood, often at borders of clearings. Found under bark of standing or fallen dead trees, in rotten logs, under loose bark on the ground, under rocks, in crevices in cliffs, and high up in forest canopy. Characteristically associated with large logs and talus. Often abundant in recently burned or logged areas having numerous stumps and large amounts of woody debris, and in areas where rock faces or talus provide deep cracks. Where the ranges overlap, less likely to be found sheltering under rocks or on rocky slopes than A. ferreus.
Spickler, et al * conducted a mark and capture study of Wandering Salamanders in 5 massive old-growth redwood trees each standing over 90 meters high (295 ft.) in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. They found that each tree was inhabited by up to 29 salamanders which inhabit crevices, cavities, woody debris lodged into parts of the tree, and mats of soil and epiphytic ferns that absorb moisture like a sponge. They speculate that the shelter and moisture provided by these microhabitats found high in the redwood canopy enable year-round occupation of the canopy by the salamanders. (Surveys were not possible during the spring and summer months.) They found no evidence that the salamanders were moving between trees or onto the ground and suggest that the salamanders breed and potentially live their entire lives within the tree crowns.
Endemic to California, but introduced onto Vancouver Island and on neighboring islands and a small area of mainland British Columbia. Occurs along the coast from northwest Sonoma County near Stewart's Point to the Smith River northern Del Norte County.
Populations inhabiting most of Vancouver Island, B.C., were probably introduced from California in shipments of Tan Oak bark in the late 19th century.
From near sea level to 5,400 ft. (1,700 m.)
Notes on Taxonomy
Based on biochemical analysis, Aneides ferreus was split into two species - A. ferreus and A. vagrans, which are similar in appearance and behavior. Old sources show the range of A. ferreus to continue all the way south to northwest Sonoma County, but all former A. ferreus south of extreme northwest Del Norte County in California, and on Vancouver Island, are A. vagrans.
Although populations have been lost due to logging practices and urban development, this salamander appears to thrive in regenerating forest. This species actually has a wider current distribution than historical distribution due to their introduction in British Columbia.
Wake and Jackman, 1999
Wake, David and Jackman, Todd - Description of a new species of plethodontid salamander from California
Canadian Journal of Zoology Vol. 76, 1998
Meaning of the Scientific Name
Aneides: Greek - lacking form or shape. vagrans: Latin - wandering.
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.
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.
Jones, Lawrence L. C. , William P. Leonard, Deanna H. Olson, editors. Amphibians of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle Audubon Society, 2005.
* Spickler, James C., Stephen C. Sillett, Sharyn B. Marks, and Hartwell H. Welsh, Jr.
Evidence of a New Niche for a North American Salamander: Aneides vagrans Residing in the Canopy of Old-growth Redwood Forest. Herpetological Conservation and Biology 1(1):16-27 Submitted: June 15, 2006; Accepted: July 19, 2006
The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the November 2020 California "Special Animals List" and the November 2020 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and available here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals. You can check the link to see if there are more recent lists.
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.
This salamander is not included on the Special Animals List, meaning there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California according to the California Department of Fish and Game.