A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Garden Slender Salamander - Batrachoseps major major

Camp, 1915
Click on a picture for a larger view

Garden Slender Salamanders Range Map
Range in California: Red

Bright Blue: Desert Slender Salamander

Dot-locality Range Map

Range Map of all Slender Salamanders in California

observation link

Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander
  Large adult, Los Angeles County  
Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander
  Adult, Los Angeles County   Adult, San Diego County
Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander
Adult, San Diego County
Adult and juvenile, San Diego County Adult, Los Angeles County Adult, Riverside County
Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander
Adult, Los Angeles County Adult, Los Angeles County Underside of adult, Los Angeles County Adult and juvenile, San Diego County
© Jay Keller
Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander    
Adult, Orange County © Tadd Kraft Sub-adult, dug up next to an underground water pipe in Palm Springs, Riverside County © Jamie Ingersoll
The Garden Slender Salamander has extended its range east into some irrigated and landscaped desert areas such as Palm Springs.
Comparisons With Sympatric Slender Salamanders
Black-bellied Slender Salamanders, B. nigriventris, and Garden Slender Salamanders, B. m. major, overlap in range in Southern California. Ongoing surveys have found that both species occur throughout most of the L.A. Basin, as well as in the mountains and foothills.

It can be difficult to identify these two species where they both are found because it is hard to tell them apart unless they are side by side and that is not often possible. You can't tell just by the size or the body color alone. Both species are about the same size, and both have similar color variations. The best way to determine the species is to look at the color of the salamander's underside.

(Go to this page for more information about how to differentiate a Black-bellied Slender Salamander from a Garden Slender Salamander.)

If you find a salamander in L.A. or Orange Counties, it could be either species. (If you find it high up in the San Gabriel Mountains, look here.) If you find a Black-bellied Slender Salamander in one of these counties, it will be helpful to those who are tracking their range in the area if you take some pictures and then report your observation at H.E.R.P. and iNaturalist. People there will also help you to confirm your ID as long as you photograph the underside.

Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander Garden Slender Salamander
B. nigriventris (Top)
B. m. major (Bottom)

Note the larger body, legs, and toes of B. m. major.
It can be difficult to identify these two species where they both are found because it is hard to tell them apart unless they are side by side and that is not often possible. You can't always tell just by the body color alone. The best way to determine the species is to look at the coloring of the underside. (See pictures to the right.)
Comparison of the undersides of B. nigriventris (Left) and B. m. major (Right)

B. nigriventris is dark in color on the belly and under the tail.

B. m. major
is light gray under the tail and throat and not as dark on the belly.
Garden Slender Salamander Comparison      
Comparison of B. m. major (left) and
B. gabrieli
(collected with a permit.)
Note the darker color of B. gabrieli and larger limbs, feet and toes.
Coronado Skink Habitat Garden Slender Salamander Habitat Garden Slender Salamander Habitat Garden Slender Salamander Habitat
Coastal sage scrub habitat,
San Diego County
Habitat, San Diego County  Habitat, rocky grasslands
Riverside County
Habitat, riparian canyon
Los Angeles County
Garden Slender Salamander Habitat Red Diamond Rattlesnake Habitat    
Habitat, riparian canyon
Los Angeles County
Habitat, San Diego County hills    
Short Video
  A Garden Slender Salamander is discovered under some
trash in a Los Angeles County canyon.
Adults are 1 1/4 - 2 1/3 inches long (3.2 - 5.9 cm) from snout to vent, and about twice that length with a full tail.

A small slim salamander, with relatively short limbs and 17-21 costal grooves.
There are 9-12 costal folds between adpressed limbs.
A narrow head, long slender body, very long tail, and conspicuous costal and caudal grooves, give this species the worm-like appearance typical of most Slender Salamanders, however B. m. major is larger with a more robust body than most of the other slender salamander species.

There are four toes on the front and hind feet, which is also typical of Slender Salamanders.
(Other California salamanders have five toes on the hind feet.)
Color and Pattern
Color varies, but is often gray above with a reddish, pinkish, or copper color on the tail, snout and shoulders, sometimes forming blotches.
Some populations are much darker (uplands of Peninsular Range).
Salamanders from near El Rosario, Baja California, are considerably paler.
A dorsal stripe is often obscure.
The belly is gray with a weak network of melanophores.
The tail is typically paler in color then the belly.
In darker populations, the belly is more densly marked.

I have heard of a study by David Wake that describes a dark population of B. m. major in southern San Diego County that have a dark belly and tail, but I have not seen the study or seen pictures of the underside. Pictures I've seen of the body show it to be darker than most B. m. major.

Comparison With Sympatric Slender Salamanders
Sympatric B. nigriventris in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Can be differentiated by ventral color - dark on B. nigriventris, and light on B. m. major, and by the darker color, smaller, slimmer body, and thinner limbs of
B. nigriventris.

Found about 2 miles from B. gabrieli. (Stebbins 2003)

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.)
Commonly found under rocks, logs, bark, leaf litter, and other surface debris, this salamander also retreats into animal burrows, earthworm tunnels, and crevices in the soil.
Active on rainy or wet nights when temperatures are moderate.
The period of activity is October through May, depending on precipitation, but may continue year-round in irrigated areas.
(I have also received a report of salamander activity in a suburban yard in San Diego County in June, when there can be precipitation there from fog and drizzle.)
Slender salamanders use several defense tactics, including:
- Coiling and remaining still, relying on cryptic coloring to avoid detection.
- Uncoiling quickly and springing away repeatedly bouncing over the ground, then remaining still again to avoid detection.
- Detaching the tail, which wriggles on the ground to distract a predator from the salamander long enough for it to escape. 
(After its tail is detached or severed, the salamander will grow a new tail.)
Diet and Feeding
Feeds primarily on small arthropods and other small invertebrates.
Feeding behavior is not well known, but other Batrachoseps species are sit-and-wait predators that use a projectile tongue to catch prey.
Reproduction is terrestrial.
Breeding probably occurs from November to January, during the rainy season.
Females lay strings of up to 10-20 eggs under stones or moist debris. Communal nesting is likely.
Young develop completely in the egg and hatch fully formed.
Hatchlings have been observed in January, and as late as April.

Habitat includes coastal sage scrub and oak woodland in the coastal interior, mixed coniferous forest at high elevations, and on north facing rocky slopes in desert localities. This species is often found in suburban yards and gardens where they benefit from the moisture from irrigation.

Geographical Range
Endemic to California and Baja California Norte. Found in the coastal interior of Southern California from the foothills of the Santa Monica, San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, south into Baja California to the vicinity of El Rosario. Also found in a few desert localities where they have extended their range eastward through San Gorgonio Pass, at Cabezon and Snow Creek Village, Riverside County, and into the city of Palm Springs, taking advantage of human irrigation and landscaping. They have also been found east of Jacumba in San Diego County. Found on Santa Catalina Island, the Coronados Islands, and Todos Santo Island.
Range Introduction
Introduced into the San Joaquin Valley at Hanford in Kings County where they live in irrigated residential gardens. These salamanders, or their eggs, may have been accidentally transferred to the region in shipments of plants from commercial nurseries in southern California, where the salamanders are native.

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
Occurs from sea level to around 4000 ft. on Mt. Palomar, San Diego County

Notes on Taxonomy

B. m. major is allied to the pacificus group of slender salamanders. It had long been placed as a subspecies of B. pacificus, until recent studies showed it was distinct.

In 2000, using DNA studies, Jockusch and Wake * reduced Batrachoseps aridus to a subspecies of Batrachoseps major - B. m. aridus, making the rest of B. major, the subspecies B. major major.  Some texts do not use this taxonomy because B. aridus is a federally-protected endangered species

Salamanders from the Sierra San Pedro Martir in Baja California have been included with the species B. major, but current studies suggests that they are a distinct species.

In a January 2012 publication ** Martinez-Solano et. al. show two major lineages of B. major, which contact very approximately in mid San Diego County, however they conclude that these northern and southern lineages should be retained in a single species until more evidence is found.
They also state that "Contrary to prior expectations, B. major has experienced extensive diversification on the Baja California Peninsula, where four endemic lineages have persisted for at least 4 million years."

Here's a Diagram of the Batrachoseps Complex showing the relationships between species.

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Batrachoseps major major - Garden Slender Salamander (Stebbins 2003, 2012)
Batrachoseps pacificus major - Garden Slender Salamander (Stebbins 1985)
Batrachoseps pacificus catalinae - Santa Catalina Slender Salamander (Stebbins 1996)
Batrachoseps pacificus major - Garden Slender Salamander (Stebbins 1996)
Batrachoseps attenuatus major - Garden Salamander (Camp's Salamander) (Bishop 1943)
Batrachoseps attenuatus leucopus - Southern Slender Salamander (Bishop 1943)
Batrachoseps attenuatus catalinae - Catalina Island Salamander (Bishop 1943)
Batrachoseps major - Garden Salamander (Storer 1925)
Batrachoseps major (Camp 1915)
Batrachoseps attenuatus (Cope 1883)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
The range of this species has been significantly fragmented and much of the habitat has been destroyed due to land development.
Family Plethodontidae Lungless Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Batrachoseps Slender Salamanders Bonaparte, 1841
Species major Southern California Slender Salamander Camp, 1915

major Garden Slender Salamander Camp, 1915
Original Description
Camp, 1915 - Univ. California Publ. Zool., Vol. 12, No. 12, p. 327

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Batrachoseps: Greek - amphibian, frog lizard - describes lizard-like appearance.
major: Latin - larger or greater (it was thought to be the largest Batrachoseps.)

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

Similar Neighboring Salamanders
B. nigriventris
B. m. aridus
B. pacificus

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife



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.

* Jockusch, Elizabeth and David Wake. Detecting Species Borders Using Diverse Data Sets. Pp. 95-119. In Bruce, Jaeger and Houck (editors). The Biology of Plethodontid Salamanders. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, 2000.

** Martínez-Solano I, Peralta-García A, Jockusch EL, Wake DB, Vázquez-Domínguez E, Parra-Olea G.
Molecular systematics of Batrachoseps (Caudata, Plethodontidae) in southern California and Baja California: Mitochondrial-nuclear DNA discordance and the evolutionary history of B. major.  Mol Phylogenet Evol. 2012 Jan 21. [Epub ahead of print]

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the August 2019 California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) Special Animals List and the CNDDB 2019 Endangered and Threatened Animals List, both of which are published by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The status listings here might not be the most current. Check the CDFW CNDDB website to see if there are more current lists:

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either CDFW CNDDB 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.

Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking
NatureServe State Ranking
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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