Sonoma California Tiger Salamander

Photo credits: Most of the photos are by Michael van Hattem. The of a salamander's head is by Cathy Johnson, USFWS.

Kids' Species Information

California Tiger Salamander

STATUS

The California tiger salamanders around Sonoma County and Santa Barbara are endangered. This means that they are in danger of dying out. We are working with people to save the Sonoma salamanders.

CA tiger salamanders in the Central Valley are threatened. This means that we are concerned about them but they are not endangered at this time.

DESCRIPTION

This is a large, stocky salamander. It has a broad, rounded snout. Its small eyes have black irises. They stick out. Adult males are about 20 cm long. (About 8 inches) Females are about 17 cm. (About 7 inches) "Tiger" comes from the white or yellow bars on CA tiger salamanders. The background color is black.

FOOD

Adults mostly eat insects. Larvae (see sidebar) eat things like algae, mosquito larvae, tadpoles and insects.

HABITAT

Grasslands and low foothills with pools or ponds for breeding.

A CA tiger salamander spends most of its life on land. Actually, "in the land" - it lives underground. It uses burrows made by squirrels and other animals.

Ponds are necessary for breeding. Natural breeding areas, mostly vernal pools, are being destroyed. (See our Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp Species Account.)

Ranch stock ponds help take the place of vernal pools for breeding. We are working with ranchers to preserve rangeland.

MATING

Around November, salamanders come out of their burrows. This is likely to be on a very stormy night. They go as much as a mile to a pond to breed.

CA Tiger Salamander eggs

Photo: Michael Van Hattem

Adults reach sexual maturity in 4 or 5 years. Although they may live as long as 10 years, they may reproduce only once. Some don't reproduce at all. They may be killed before becoming sexually mature. Or they may not find a pond for mating, e.g. in very dry years.

Females lay eggs (see photo) singly or in small groups. They may lay as many as 1,300 eggs. These are usually attached to vegetation. Eggs hatch in about 10 to 14 days.

Around late spring, salamanders leave the ponds to find burrows.

PREDATORS

Birds such as herons and egrets. Fish. Bullfrogs.

RANGE

Mostly the Central Valley of California. Small populations around Santa Barbara and Sonoma.

THREATS

Urban development and farming reduce habitat.

Squirrel control programs may reduce the number burrows where salamanders can live. The poison used on squirrels affects salamanders too.

Nonnative salamanders have been imported for use as fish bait. They may out-compete the CA tiger salamanders. Nonnative bullfrogs kill larvae.

EXPLORE

Catching a CA tiger salamander requires a permit. But you may be able to see larvae swimming around. With a copy of Pond Life (See More Reading below), you can identify lots of pond animals.

HELP

See What You Can Do to Help Wildlife and Plants (201 KB PDF) for ideas about how to help threatened and endangered species.

MORE READING

Pond Life: A Guide to Common Plants and Animals of North American Ponds and Lakes by George K. Reid. Golden Books. A tiny, inexpensive book that is a must for anyone studying ponds.

CaliforniaHerps.com has lots of information about snakes, lizards, frogs, turtles and salamanders. See their species account about the California tiger salamander.

Learn about the research of Michael van Hattem in Night of the Salamander by Joy Lanzendorfer. Bay Nature, January-March 2005 issue.

Words to Learn

Biologists who study snakes, frogs, turtles, salamanders and other reptiles and amphibians are called herpetologists.

Herpetologists call the California tiger salamander Ambystoma californiense. Scientific names are in Latin or Greek.

Salamanders are in the Ambystomatidae family.

Newborn salamanders are called larvae. See photo. This is the stage known as "tadpoles" in frogs and toads.