A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California

Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi -
Large-blotched Ensatina

Dunn, 1929

(= Ensatina klauberi)
Click on a picture for a larger view

Ensatina California Range Map
Range in California: Dark Blue

Click the map for a key to
the other Ensatina subspecies

observation link

Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina
  Adult, Mt. Palomar, San Diego County  
Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina
Adult, Mt. Palomar, San Diego County Adult, Mt. Palomar, San Diego County
Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina
  Adult, Mt. Palomar, San Diego County  
Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina
Adult, San Diego County
© Jason Jones
Adult, San Diego County
© Brad Alexander
Adult with unusual pattern, Mt. Palomar, San Diego County © Stuart Young
Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina
Tiny juvenile, Mt. Palomar, San Diego County
Ensatina Courtship
Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina
This pair of courting adults was found on a wet January night in San Diego County.
© Jeff Nordland
This smaller male was found only a few feet away from the pair shown to the left and was probably in competition for the female. © Jeff Nordland
Hybrids or Intergrades
Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina
Pale-blotched adult, (probably an intergrade with the Yellow-blotched
) 5,500 ft., Mt. San Jacinto, Riverside County
Hybrid or intergrade with
E. e. eschscholtzii,
San Diego County
© Brad Alexander
Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina
Aberrant adult, or hybrid, San Diego County © Anthony Mercieca
Hybrid or intergrade with E. e. eschscholtzii, Mt. Palomar, San Diego County
© Jeff Nordland
Large-blotched Ensatina Habitat Large-blotched Ensatina Habitat Large-blotched Ensatina Habitat
Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, 5,000 ft. Mt. Palomar,
San Diego County
Habitat, 5,000 ft. Mt. Palomar,
San Diego County
Large-blotched Ensatina Habitat Large-blotched Ensatina Habitat  
Habitat, 4,600 ft. San Diego County Habitat, 4,600 ft, San Diego County  
Short Video
Large-blotched Ensatina Large-blotched Ensatina  
An adult Large-blotched Ensatina crawls around in the forest on a San Diego County mountain. A juveinle Large-blotched Ensatina
in San Diego County.
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.

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 is blackish above with large orange or pinkish blotches and coloring on the base of the limbs and a gray venter.
The eyes are dark with no yellow markings.
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.)
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. Longevity has been estimated at up to 15 years.
Adults have been observed marking and defending territories outside of the breeding season.
Longevity has been estimated at up to 15 years.
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.
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. You can also watch an Ensatina courtship video on YouTube.

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.
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 develop completely in the egg and probably leave the nesting site with the first saturating Fall rains, or, at higher elevations, after the snow melts.

Geographical Range
Found in the peninsular ranges of southern California and part of the eastern San Bernardino Mountains. Isolated populations occur in the San Pedro de Martir Mountains and the Sierra Juarez of northern Baja California. (Grismer, 2002)
Old sightings from the San Gabriel Mountains have not been confirmed.
The subspecies intergrades with the Yellow-blotched Ensatina 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.

An alien population of Large-blotched Ensatina has become established in the mountains in Arizona. I was told by an Arizona Game and Fish biologist that the salamanders were put there illegally in 1980 by someone who wanted to save the subspecies.

Full Species Range Map
Inhabits moist shaded evergreen and deciduous forests and oak woodlands. Found under rocks, logs, other debris, especially bark that has peeled off and fallen beside logs and trees. Most common where there is a lot of coarse woody debris on the forest foor. In dry or very cold weather, stays inside moist logs, animal burrows, under roots, woodrat nests, under rocks.

Notes on Taxonomy

Coexists with E. e. eschscholtziiin the Peninsular ranges, hybridizing with it at some locations, including Mt. Palomar. Intergrades with E. e. croceater in the San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains.

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."

Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Ensatina klauberi - Large-blotched Ensatina (Stebbins 2003)
Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi - Large-blotched Ensatina (Stebbins 2003)
Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi
- Large-blotched Salamander (Ensatina) (Stebbins 1966, 1985)
Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi - ssp. of Eschscholtz's Salamander (Stebbins 1954)
Ensatina croceater - YellowBlotched Salamander (Yellow Spotted Salamander) (Bishop 1943)
Ensatina croceater - Yellow-spotted Salamander (Storer 1925)
Plethodon croceater (Cope 1867)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)
A California Species of Special Concern.
Family Plethodontidae Lungless Salamanders Gray, 1850
Genus Ensatina Ensatinas Gray, 1850
Species Eschscholtzii Ensatina Gray, 1850

klauberi Large-blotched Ensatina Dunn, 1929
Original Description
Ensatina eschscholtzii - Gray, 1850 - Cat. Spec. Amph. Coll. Brit. Mus., Batr. Grad., p. 48
Ensatina eschscholtzii klauberi -Tanner, "1944" 1945 - Great Basin Nat., Vol. 5, p. 71, pl. 1, map

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.
klauberi: honors Laurence M. Klauber

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

Related California Salamanders
Monterey Ensatina
Oregon Ensatina
Painted Ensatina
Sierra Nevada Ensatina

Yellow-eyed Ensatina
Yellow-blotched Ensatina

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife


Charles W. Brown's Ensatina Web Site

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.

Grismer, L. Lee. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California, Including Its Pacific Islands and the Islands in the Sea of Cortés. The University of California Press, 2002.

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.

The CDFW lists E. e. klauberi as as full species - E. klauberi - Large-blotched Salamander
Status Listing
NatureServe Global Ranking G2G3
NatureServe State Ranking S2S3
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife SSC California Species of Special Concern
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service S Sensitive
IUCN Not listed

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 -