Ambystoma californienseCalifornia Tiger Salamander

Geographic Range

Ambystoma californiense is isolated from Ambystoma tigrinum, with which it was once considered conspecific. It is endemic to California, and are found in the Central Valley and adjacent foothills and coastal grassland (Petranka 1998, Loredo et al. 1996).


Ambystoma californiense likes a Mediterranean climate of cool wet winters and hot dry summers. They inhabit annual grasslands and open woodlands of foothills and valleys. Ground squirrel burrows are necessary for the survival af A. californiense (Petranka 1998, Loredo et al 1996).

Physical Description

male SVL 80-108 mm

female SVL 79-118 mm

Ambystoma californiense has broad rounded snouts with small eyes. It is a lustrous black and marked with rounded or irregular yellow spots. Bellies are a grayish color and may contain a few small dull yellow spots. These salamanders have 12 costal grooves on their sides (Petranka 1998).



Ambystoma californiense breeds from late winter into early spring in large temporary ponds. They are explosive breeders, meaning they emerge, breed quickly, and then return to their burrows. They may breed two or three times a year this way. Juveniles migrate from these ponds to underground burrows in the spring during the rains. They are especially vulnerable to dehydration and heat stress during their overland movement (Petranka 1998, Loredo et al. 1996, Holland et al. 1990). They are rarely seen, due to nocturnal breeding migrations, and living in burrows underground (Loredo et al. 1996). Females attach one egg at a time to twigs, grass stems, vegetation, or detrious. These eggs are covered by a vitelline membrane and three jelly coats. They are distinguished by a pale yellow brown coloring and are about 2 mm in diameter (Petranka 1998). Eggs hatch 2-4 weeks after deposition (Petranka 1998, Barry and Shaffer 1994). Larvae coloring is yellowish gray. They are similiar to adults, except for large dorsal fins extending onto the back, and large feathery gills (Petranka 1998).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)


Ambystoma californiense burrows into Spermophilus spp. (ground squirrels) and other rodent burrows near their natal pond. Adults are able to move at a rate of 50.8 meters per hour, while juveniles can only move at a rate of about 30.9 meters per hour. Adults use the same migratory pattern year after year (Petranka 1998, Loredo et al. 1996).

Food Habits

Ambystoma californiense larvae eat aquatic invertebrates (Petranka 1998, Barry and Shaffer 1994). Adults are known to eat earthworms. They feed with a three part gape cycle, tongue extension cycle, and anterior head body movement common to ambystomatids (Beneski et al. 1995).

Conservation Status

Special Concern species in California (Holland et al. 1990)

Category I species on Federal Endangered Species List (Loredo et al. 1996)

Other Comments

Habitat loss is a big problem for Ambystoma californiense. Urban development and agriculture is eliminating its natural habitat. It is preyed upon by introduced species of fish and bullfrogs (Loredo et al. 1996). Ambystoma californiense has toxic skin secretions (Loredo et al. 1996), probably as a defense mechanism against the rodents it shares burrows with. The ground squirrel populations are controlled throughout much of California (Petranka 1998). This is another way in which Ambystoma californiense individuals are losing thier homes. Due to this, the ways in which ground squirrels are controlled and where they are controlled should be taken into consideration.


Jerry Redding II (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.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


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


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.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


Barry, S., H. Shaffer. 1994. The status of the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) at Lagunita: a 50 year update. Journal of Herpetology, 28(2): 159-164.

Beneski jr, J., J. Larsen jr, B. Miller. 1995. Variation in the feeding kinematics of mole salamanders (Ambystomatidae: Ambystoma). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 73(2): 353-366.

Holland, D., M. Hayes, E. McMillan. 1990. Late summer movement and mass mortality in the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense). Southwest Naturalist, 35(2): 217-220.

Loredo, I., D. Van Vuren, M. Morrison. 1996. Habitat use and migration behavior of the California tiger salamander. Journal of Herpetology, 30(2): 282-285.

Petranka, J. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Cananda. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institute Press.