Ambystoma opacumMarbled Salamander

Geographic Range

Ambystoma opacum, the marbled salamander is found throughout most of the eastern United States, from Massachusetts west to central Illinois, southeastern Missouri and Oklahoma and eastern Texas, south to the Gulf of Mexico and the Carolina coast. It is absent from peninsular Florida. Disjunct populations are found in eastern Missouri, central Illinois, in northwest Ohio/northeast Indiana, and along the southern edges of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. (Petranka, 1998)


Adult marbled salamanders live in damp woodlands, often close to ponds or streams. These salamanders are occasionally can be found around dry hillsides, but never far from a moist environment. (Flank, 1999; Petranka, 1998)

Unlike most other mole salamanders, this species does not breed in water. Adult marbled salamanders breed only in dried up pools, ponds, and ditches, and females lay their eggs under the leaves there. The eggs hatch after the ponds refill. (Petranka, 1998)

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • temporary pools

Physical Description

Ambystoma opacum is one of the smaller species in the Ambystomatidae family. It attains an adult length of approximately 9-10.7 cm (Conant and Collins 1998). It is sometimes called the banded salamander, because of its white or light gray crossbands across the head, back, and tail. Considered sexually dimorphic, males are smaller than females, and have silvery white crossbands. During the breeding season, the crossbands become very white and glands around the male's cloaca become swollen. Females are larger, and have silvery gray crossbands. (Petranka, 1998)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range length
    9 to 10.7 cm
    3.54 to 4.21 in



Unlike most others in this family, Ambystoma opacum has a very unusual reproductive strategy. Instead of breeding ponds or other permanent water sources, in spring months, the marbled salamander is a fall breeder, and breeds entirely on land.

After finding his mate, the male will court with the female, often moving in a circular fashion with her. The male will then proceed to undulate his tail, and raise his body. Following this, the male will deposit a spermatophore onto the ground. If interested, the female will then proceed to pick it up with her cloacal lips (Petranka 1998). After mating the female will venture off and select a small depression in the ground. This depression is usually a reduced pond, or dried bed of a ditch or temporary pond (Petranka 1998). The female will lay a clutch of between fifty and one hundred eggs. Once deposited the female will remain with them to keep them moist, until nests are flooded. As soon as the autumn rains come the eggs will hatch in the depression they were originally laid in. If rain never comes the eggs will remain dormant through the winter if temperatures do not fall too low, then hatch the following spring (Flank 1999).

Once hatched the gray colored larvae (1 cm) grow extremely quickly, eating primarily macrozooplankton. Large larvae, however, will eat amphibian larvae and eggs (Petranka 1998). The timing on metamorphosis depends on geographic location. Those that are found in the South can go through metamorphosis in as little as two months. Those in the northern climates generally take between eight to nine months (Petranka 1998). Young juveniles are approximately 5 cm, and attain sexual maturity in about 15 months, after metamorphosis (Flank 1999). (Flank, 1999; Petranka, 1998)

  • Breeding interval
    Marbled salamanders breed once per year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding starts in the late summer in the northern part of the range, and extends into November in the southern part.
  • Range number of offspring
    50 to 100
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    1460 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    17 to 26 months



Ambystoma opacum is, for the most part, a solitary species, spending most of the time under leaf litter or underground (up to one meter). It is thought that species will defend burrows they inhabit against others of the same species. Occasionally, adults will share burrows with each other. Adults do, however, tend to be more aggressive towards each other when food is scarce (Petranka 1998). The only time species are in contact with one another is during the breeding season. Males will often arrive at potential sites about a week before the females (Petranka 1998). (Flank, 1999; Petranka, 1998)

Food Habits

Even with its small size, an adult Ambystoma opacum is a voracious, carnivorous predator, consuming large amounts of food. Small worms, insects, slugs, and even snails, make up its diet. Attracted to movement as well as odor, this species will not eat dead prey. (Flank, 1999)

Marbled salamander larvae are also active predators, and may be the dominant predators in their temporary ponds. They eat zooplankton (mainly copepods and cladocerans) when they first hatch, but add other prey to their diet as they grow, including larger crustaceans (isopods, fairy shrimp), aquatic insects, snails, oligochaete worms, and the larvae of amphibians, sometimes even other marbled salamanders. In woodland ponds larger larvae sometimes feed heavily on caterpillars that fall into the water. (Petranka, 1998)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats non-insect arthropods
  • Animal Foods
  • amphibians
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • aquatic crustaceans
  • zooplankton


Marbled salamanders are preyed upon by various woodland predators (snakes, owls, raccoons, skunks, shrews, weasels).

Poison glands located on the tail provide a degree of protection. (Petranka, 1998)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Marbled salamanders have no economic importance.

Conservation Status

This species is listed as threatened by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). In other areas it is not considered threatened and can be locally common.

Declining populations in the Great Lakes region can be attributed to both declining habitat but more so the effects of widespread temperature cooling after a warmer postglacial climate brought them into the area.


David Armitage (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Garry Rogers (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal which has a substance capable of killing, injuring, or impairing other animals through its chemical action (for example, the skin of poison dart frogs).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)


Conant, R., J. Collins. 1998. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America: Third edition, expanded. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Flank, L. 1999. "Marbled Salamander" (On-line). Accessed November 11, 1999 at

Petranka, J. 1998. Slamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press.