E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Ambystoma gracile (Baird, 1859)
Northwestern Salamander
Family: Ambystomatidae

Species account author: Brent Matsuda and Rose Klinkenberg

© David Blevins  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #108)

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Ambystoma gracile in British Columbia
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AmphibiaWeb US Distribution Map

Species Information


The Northwestern Salamander is a species of mole salamander that is found in North America, west of the Coast and Cascade Mountains, from southeast Alaska south through British Columbia to northwestern California (Matsuda et al. 2006). In British Columbia, it is found in the southwestern corner of the province along the mainland coast and on Vancouver Island. It has been observed by one of us (Matsuda) in Burns Bog, Lower Stave Lake, the Chilliwack Valley (Elk Mtn, Vedder Mtn, Tamihi Creek, etc.), Tofino, Meares Island, Long Beach area, and one of the islands in the Broken Islands Group. Egg masses have been observed in Prince Rupert. It is also reported from Mt. Seymour, Little Campbell River and Marion Lake (COSEWIC), and Lost & Goldie Lake (Eagleson 1976).

The Northwestern Salamander is a large salamander species reaching lengths of 220 m (8.7 in.) (Wikipedia 2012). It has two forms, a terrestrial adult form that lives primarily on land and a neotenic adult form that lives in water and retains its gills. Terrestrial forms are easily recognized by the large parotoid gland behind the eye and enlarged glandular ridge running along the top of the tail which contain a noxious, milky secretion to discourage predation.

According to AmphibiaWeb (2012), egg-laying in this species occurs from January–April in the Seattle area, and "breeding occurs from June to late August in higher elevation (1,300–1,676 m) lakes in Oregon (Snyder, 1956) and British Columbia (Eagleson, 1976)". Licht (1975) states that mating occurs in March-April, and Lindsey (1966) reported egg-laying in mid-April in Marion lake, but this likely all varies with water temperature.

Northwestern Salamanders are carnivores. Both juveniles and adults eat a variety of terrestrial invertebrates. Larvae also feed on zooplankton (BC FrogWatch).

Two subspecies are recognized for this species, both found in BC (Matsuda et al. 2006):

1) Ambystoma gracile gracile (Brown Salamander): south coast and Vancouver Island
2) Ambystoma gracile decorticatum (British Columbia Salamander): north of Bella Coola

View a short video of a neotenic Northwestern Salamander in BC.

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
COSEWIC
NativeS4S5YellowNAR (May 1999)
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Range and Status Information Links

Additional Photo Sources

Species References

Eagleson, G. W. 1976. A comparison of the life histories and growth patterns of the salamander Ambystoma gracile (Baird) from permanent low altitude and montane lakes. Canadian Journal of Zoology 54: 2098-2111.

Matsuda, Brent M., David M. Green and Patrick T. Gregory. 2006. Amphibians and Reptiles of British Columbia. Royal BC Museum Handbook. Victoria.

General References


Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2017. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 16/08/2018 6:18:09 PM]
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