CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Coastal Giant Salamander - Dicamptodon tenebrosus

(Baird and Girard, 1852)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Coastal Giant Salamander Range MapRange in California: Red

Dot-locality Range Map




observation link



SoCalHerpsCover
Android and iPhone App
Electronic Field Guide to the
Reptiles and Amphibians of
Southern California.
Click for More Information.
Available Now at the
iTunes App Store
 and Google Play




Coastal Giant Salamander Coastal Giant Salamander Coastal Giant Salamander
Adult, Humboldt County
Coastal Giant Salamander Coastal Giant Salamander Coastal Giant Salamander
Adult, coastal redwoods, Del Norte County
Coastal Giant Salamander Coastal Giant Salamander Coastal Giant Salamander
Adult, coastal redwoods,
Del Norte County © Alan Barron
Adult, 5,300 ft., eastern Del Norte County © Alan Barron Adult, coastal redwoods,
Del Norte County © Alan Barron
Coastal Giant Salamander Coastal Giant Salamander  
Adult, Humboldt County © Patrick Briggs

Underside of adult, Humboldt County  
Aquatic Larvae and Adults
Coastal Giant Salamander larva Coastal Giant Salamander larva Coastal Giant Salamander larva
Large larva in water, Del Norte County
Coastal Giant Salamander larva Coastal Giant Salamander larva Coastal Giant Salamander larva
Very small larva in water, Del Norte County Large larva in water, Del Norte County
Coastal Giant Salamander neotene Coastal Giant Salamander neotene Coastal Giant Salamander neotene
Large neotenic adult, Mendocino County. (Note the dark claw-like growths on the back toes.) © Molly Rinaldi
Coastal Giant Salamander neotene Coastal Giant Salamander neotene  
Large neotenic adult in water, 5000 ft., Trinity Mountains, Siskiyou County

Large captive neotenic
adult in an aquarium
 
Predators
Northern Pacific Rattlesnake Northern Pacific Rattlesnake Northern Pacific Rattlesnake
Oregon Gartersnake, Thamnophis atratus hydrophilus, eating a neotenic Coastal Giant Salamander in Trinity County.
© Ben Witzke

Habitat
Coastal Giant Salamander Habitat Coastal Giant Salamander Habitat Coastal Giant Salamander Habitat
Habitat, Del Norte County Habitat, Del Norte County Habitat, Humboldt County
Coastal Giant Salamander Habitat Coastal Giant Salamander Habitat Coastal Giant Salamander Habitat
Habitat, Humboldt County Habitat, Humboldt County Habitat, 5,000 ft., Trinity Mountains, Siskiyou County
Coastal Giant Salamander Habitat Coastal Giant Salamander Habitat Coastal Giant Salamander Habitat
Habitat, Mendocino County

Habitat, Del Norte County Habitat closeup, 5,000 ft., Trinity Mountains, Siskiyou County

Short Videos
Coastal Giant Salamander larva Coastal Giant Salamander larva  
Coastal Giant Salamander larvae shown walking and swimming in shallow water and on streamside stones. You can see the gills working on this tiny larva shown underwater in a small aquarium.  
Description

Size
Adults are 2 1/2 to 6 4/5 inches long (6.25 - 17 cm) from snout to vent, and up to 13 inches (34 cm) in total length.
Appearance
The largest terrestrial salamander in North America. Neotenic larvae may grow to almost 14 inches (35 cm.)
The body is large and robust with a massive head and stout limbs. The tail is flattened from side to side. The ground color of the body is dark brown to near black overlaid with light brown spotting or fine-grained marbling. Very old animals may lose their pattern except on the head. The venter is white to light gray, sometimes dark. Transformed adults have 12 - 13 indistinct costal grooves.

Neoteny can be common; gilled adults often outnumber transformed individuals.

Stream-type larvae have tail fins that extend forward only to the hind limbs, often with heavy black mottling. Gills are short, bushy, and dull red.
Behavior and Natural History
Terrestrial adults often remain in underground retreats, emerging to forage on the forest floor on rainy nights. Sometimes found crossing roads on rainy nights. Adults are typically found within 50 meters of streams. Found under objects near streams, under rocks in streams, and sometimes crawling in daytime.

Large adults are capable of delivering a painful bite. Other defenses include arching the body and lashing the tail and excreting noxious skin secretions.
Diet
Giant salamanders will consume anything that they can overpower and fit in their mouth, including a variety of invertebrates and small vertebrates including salamanders, small rodents, lizards, and even small snakes. Aquatic larvae feed on small aquatic invertebrates including insects and larvae, mollusks, and crayfish, and small fish hatchlings. Giant salamanders are sit-and-wait predators. When prey comes near they lunge quickly to grab the prey with their mouth and crush it with their jaws.
Reproduction and Young
Reproduction is aquatic. Courtship sites are not known. Breeding occurs mostly in spring, usually in May, but later at high elevations. Females move from upland habitats to lay their eggs in pools or in the slow-moving parts of streams where they attach the eggs to the underside of submerged rocks or wood. They will guard the eggs until they hatch in June and July. From 83 to 146 eggs have been reported in a clutch.

Larvae transform 18 - 24 months after hatching, depending on environmental conditions and the size and permanence of the stream. Some larvae do not transform  for three years. Recently metamorphosed juveniles move out of streams to the surrounding habitat during wet periods.
Range
Occurs in California from Mendocino County near Point Arena, north along the coast and into the north coast mountain ranges as far east as Shasta Reservoir, Shasta County, and McCloud, Siskiyou County, and north to the Oregon border. From there it ranges north west of the Cascade mountains (and east of the crest in a few locations) into extreme southwestern British Columbia, but is absent from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.
Habitat
Occurs in wet forests in or near clear, cold streams and rivers, mountain lakes, and ponds. Takes shelter under rocks, logs, in logs, and in burrows and root channels. Population densities are highest in creeks with many large stones. Larvae frequent clear cold streams, creeks, and lakes and can be found under rocks and leaf litter in slowly moving water near the banks or exposed in the water at night. From sea level to near 7,000 ft. but mostly below 3,100 ft.
Taxonomic Notes
The species Dicamptodon ensatus was split into three species when evidence showed that salamanders from the south Bay area to Sonoma County were genetically distinct from those to the north and from animals in Idaho and Montana. The northern species became Dicamptodon tenebrosus, the southern species became Dicamptodon ensatus - California Giant Salamander, and the eastern species became Dicamptodon aterrimus - Idaho Giant Salamander.
Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
The historical distribution of this slamander has probably not declined, though there certainly has been some localized extirpation from urbanization and some fragmentation within the range mostly due to forestry practices. Studies indicate a long-term decline in populations after logging of old-growth forests. D. tenebrosus is far more abundant in unsilted streams than in streams that have become silted due to logging or other alteration of the land above the stream. Creek sedimentation eliminates access to cover under rocks in the streambed which is critical habitat.

Taxonomy
Family Dicamptodontidae Giant Salamanders Tihen, 1958
Genus Dicamptodon Pacific Giant Salamanders Strauch, 1870
Species


tenebrosus Coastal Giant Salamander (Baird and Girard, 1852)
Original Description
Baird and Girard, 1852 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 6, p. 174

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Dicamptodon: Greek - two curved, bent teeth, referring to doubly curved teeth.
ensatus: Latin - dark, gloomy, possibly referring to color or habitat.

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

Alternate Names
Pacific Giant Salamander

Formerly called Dicamptodon ensatus

Related California Salamanders
California Giant Salamander - Dicamptodon ensatus
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.


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
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
 

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 -