A couple days ago while working in our garden near Lookout CA (Modoc County), Leonard found an interesting salamander under some straw mulch. This was the first time we can remember ever finding a salamander on our high desert property.
There are five subspecies of long-toed salamanders (Ambystoma macrodactylum) living in Western Canada, Southeastern Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Northeastern California. The subspecies A m sigillatum is the one found in Southwestern Oregon and where we live in Northeastern California.
A medium sized salamander, the southern long-toed salamander has a blunt snout and small protuberant eyes. The tail is flattened from side to side to facilitate swimming. It is dusty black or brown above with a yellow dorsal stripe interrupted by dark blotches. The sides and underside are sprinkled with whitish speckles. The fourth toe is significantly longer than the other toes giving this species its common name. Adults produce sticky skin secretions to deter predators.
This member of the Mole Salamander Family (Ambystomatidae) has two life phases. Larvae hatch from eggs laid in alpine streams, ponds or other bodies of water. The larvae swim with enlarged tails and filamentous external gills. The southern long-toed salamander larvae transform into four-legged salamanders that live on the ground and breathe air with lungs. Adults spend much of their lives underground, often utilizing the tunnels of burrowing mammals, or in rotten logs. During the breeding season they can be found under litter, logs, or rocks near water.
Southern long-toed salamanders are carnivores, primarily eating small invertebrates. The larvae of this species will also cannibalize larvae of their own species.
This amphibian on our property was an unusual find.