CaliforniaHerps.com

A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Yellow-blotched Ensatina -
Ensatina eschscholtzii croceater

(Cope, 1867)
Click on a picture for a larger view



Ensatina California Range Map
Range in California: Light Blue

Click the map for a key to
the other Ensatina subspecies




observation link





Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina
Adult, 3,300 ft. Tejon Pass, Tehachapi Mountains, Kern County
Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina
Underside of adult, Tejon Pass, Tehachapi Mountains, Kern County Adult, 3,300 ft. Tejon Pass, Tehachapi Mountains, Kern County
Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina
Adult, in defensive pose, 6,000 ft., Breckenridge Mountain, Kern County
Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina
Juvenile, 6,000 ft. Breckenridge Mtn.,
Kern County
Juvenile, 3,300 ft. Tejon Pass, Tehachapi Mountains, Kern County Juvenile, (about 1.5 inches in length) Tejon Pass, 3,300 ft. Kern County
Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina Yellow-blotched Ensatina
Adult, 1,800 ft. elevation, Kern County, from intergrade zone with E.e.platensis. Adult, 1,800 ft. elevation, Kern County, from intergrade zone with E.e.platensis. Adult, 4,500 ft., Tehachapi, Kern County.
This Ensatina with large blotches was discovered one night in late December on a back porch. It was 45 degrees and raining. © Terri Asher
     
Habitat
Yellow-blotched Ensatina Habitat Yellow-blotched Ensatina Habitat Yellow-blotched Ensatina Habitat
Habitat, 3300 ft., Tehachapi Mountains,
Kern County
Habitat, 3300 ft., Tehachapi Mountains,
Kern County
Habitat, 3,500 ft., Tehachapi
Mountains, Kern County
Kern Canyon Slender Salamander Habitat Yellow-blotched Ensatina Habitat  
Habitat, 2,400 ft., Kern County

Habitat, 6,000 ft., Breckenridge
Mountain, Kern County
 
     
Short Video
  Yellow-blotched Ensatina  
  An adult Yellow-blotched Ensatina crawls around on a fallen log trying to get back under cover.  
   
Description
 
Size
Adult Ensatina measure from 1.5 - 3.2 inches long (3.8 - 8.1 cm) from snout to vent, and 3 - 6 inches (7.5 - 15.5 cm) in total length.

Appearance
A medium-sized salamander.
The legs are long, and the body is relatively short, with 12 - 13 costal grooves.
Nasolabial grooves are present.
The tail is rounded and constricted at the base, which will differentiate this salamander from its neighbors.
Color and Pattern
This subspecies has a black ground color is marked with large yellow or cream-colored blotches, with yellow or orange on the base of the limbs.
Male / Female Differences
Males have longer, more slender tails than females, and a shorter snout with an enlarged upper lip, while the bodies of females are usually shorter and fatter than the bodies of males.

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 their mouth tissues, which 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 some 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.)
Activity
Ensatina live in relatively cool moist places on land becoming most active on rainy or wet nights when temperatures are moderate. They stay underground during hot and dry periods where they are able to tolerate considerable dehydration. They may also continue to feed underground during the summer months. High-altitude populations are also inactive during severe winter cold.

Adults have been observed marking and defending territories outside of the breeding season.
Territoriality
Adults have been observed marking and defending territories outside of the breeding season.
Longevity
Longevity has been estimated at up to 15 years.
Defense
When severely threatened, an Ensatina may drop its tail to distract the attention of a predator towards the writhing tail so the animal can crawl away to safety. The tail can be re-grown. The tail also contains a high density of poison glands. When disturbed, an Ensatina will stand tall in a stiff-legged defensive posture with its back swayed and the tail raised up and secrete a milky white substance from the tail, swaying the it from side to side. This noxious substance repels predators, although some experienced predators learn to eat all but the tail. If a person gets the poison on their lips, they will experience some numbness for several hours.1
Diet and Feeding
Ensatinas eat a wide variety of invertebrates, including worms, ants, beetles, spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, sow bugs, and snails.
They expell a relatively long sticky tongue from the mouth to capture the prey and pull it back into the mouth where it is crushed and killed, then swallowed.
Typically feeding is done using sit-and-wait ambush tactics, but sometimes Ensatinas will slowly stalk their prey.
Sound
Rarely, Ensatina make a hissing sound, similar to the hissing of a snake, when threatened. (Stebbins 1951; Brodie, 1978.)
Breeding
Reproduction is terrestrial.
Breeding takes place in Fall and Spring, but may also occur throughout the winter.
Stebbins describes an elaborate Ensatina courtship involving the male rubbing his body and head against the female eventually dropping a sperm capsule onto the ground which the female picks up with her cloaca. (A description and illustration of this courtship can be seen here.) The female can store the sperm until she determines the time is right to fertilize her eggs.

At the end of the rainy season, typically April or May, females retreat to their aestivation site under bark, in rotting logs, or in underground animal burrows, and lay their eggs.
Eggs
Females lay 3 - 25 eggs, with 9 - 16 being average.
Females remain with the eggs to guard them until they hatch. (You can see pictures of two Ensatinas with their eggs and hatchlings here.)
In labs, eggs have hatched in 113 - 177 days.
Young
Young develop completely in the egg and hatch fully formed.
Young probably leave the nesting site with the first saturating Fall rains, or, at higher elevations, after the snow melts.

Geographical Range
Yellow-blotched Ensatina are endemic to California. They occur in the lower Kern River Canyon, the Paiute Mountains, Breckenridge Mountain, the Tehachapi mountains, on Mt. Pinos, near Fort Tejon, and near Frazier-Alamo mountain. Some individuals in the lower Kern River Canyon are intergrades with E. e. platensis. Intergrades with E. e. klauberi are found in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains.

Ensatina are the most widely-distributed plethodontid salamanders in the West, ranging from an isolated location in the mountains of Baja California north along the extreme northwest coast of Baja California, through most of California excluding the deserts, the central valley, and high elevations in the mountains, continuing north into Oregon and Washington west of the Cascades Mountains, and farther north into Canada along the coast of southern British Columbia. Also found on Vancouver Island.

The Ensatina range map shown here shows a very large range of intergradation in Northern California between 4 subspecies as shown by Stebbins (2003 and 2012) that at one time was considered part of the range E. e. oregonensis. Molecular studies have shown complexities that make the use of intergrade innacturate (Stebbins & McGinnis 2012), but I will continue to use the term until more studies determine the taxonomy of this region, and in the other intergrade zones in the state.

Full Species Range Map
Red = Approximate Range of Ensatina eschscholtzii - Ensatina

Habitat
Found in evergreen and deciduous forests, under rocks, logs, and other surface debris, especially bark that has peeled off and fallen beside decaying logs. Shaded north-facing areas seem to be favored, especially near creeks or streams.
Most common where there is a lot of woody debris on the forest foor. In dry or very cold weather, stays inside moist logs, animal burrows, under roots, woodrat nests, and under rocks.

Notes on Taxonomy
Ensatina eschscholtzii is typically treated as a "ring" species, consisting of 7 subspecies:

E. e. croceater
E. e. eschscholtzii

E. e. klauberi

E. e. oregonensis

E. e. picta

E. e. platensis

E. e. xanthoptica


These subspecies ring the Central Valley but do not interbreed where the rings overlap in Southern California (and possibly in the central Sierra Nevada.) These contact zones are still under study.

Some researchers see Ensatina eschscholtzii as two or more species forming a superspecies complex, recognizing E. e. klauberi, found at the southern end of the ring, as a separate species - Ensatina klauberi.
E. e. eschscholtzii
has been found to hybridize with intergrades of E. e. croceator and E. e. klauberi.

Charles W. Brown explains the taxonomy of the Ensatina complex in detail, describing it as "a classical example of Darwinian evolution by gradualism; an accumulation of micro mutations that is now leading to the formation of a new species."

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
This subspecies is a species of special concern.
Taxonomy
Family Plethodontidae Lungless Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Ensatina Ensatinas Gray, 1850
Species Eschscholtzii Ensatina Gray, 1850
Subspecies

croceater Yellow-blotched Ensatina (Cope, 1867)
Original Description
Ensatina eschscholtzii - Gray, 1850 - Cat. Spec. Amph. Coll. Brit. Mus., Batr. Grad., p. 48
Ensatina eschscholtzii croceater - Cope, "1867" 1868 - Proc. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, Vol. 19, p. 210

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

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Ensatina: Latin - sword shaped/similar to, possibly referring to the teeth.
eschscholtzii: honors Johann F. Eschscholtz.
croceater: Latin - saffron colored & black, 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 California Salamanders
Large-blotched Ensatina
Monterey Ensatina
Oregon Ensatina
Painted Ensatina
Sierra Nevada Ensatina
Yellow-blotched Ensatina

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

AmphibiaWeb

1 Charles W. Brown's Ensatina Web Site

Hansen, Robert W. Kern River Research Area Field Notes Spring 1997 Vol. 6, No. 2

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.

Joao Alexandrino, Stuart J. E. Baird, Lucinda Lawson, J. Robert Macey, Craig Moritz, and David B. Wake.  Strong Selection Against Hybrids at a Hybrid Zone in the Ensatina Ring Species Complex and Its Evolutionary Implications.  Evolution, 59(6), 2005, pp. 1334–1347.

Shawn R. Kuchta, Duncan S. Parks, David B. Wake. Pronounced phylogeographic structure on a small spatial scale: Geomorphological evolution and lineage history in the salamander ring species Ensatina eschscholtzii in central coastal California. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 50 (2009) 240–255


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 DFG:SSC California Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management BLM:S Sensitive
USDA Forest Service USFS:S Sensitive
 

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