Four species of salamanders have been observed on the UC Quail Ridge Reserve. It is possible that a fourth species, the Pacific giant salamander (Dicamptodon ensatus) may also be found on the Reserve. However, this is unlikely considering the lack of permanent streams on the Reserve.

California Newts; Photo by Mike BenardCalifornia newt, Taricha torosa (Salamandridae Family) – These large (7-9 cm SVL, = snout-vent length) salamanders have orange dorsal coloration and a light yellow ventral coloration. Most of the year they have rough, bumpy skins; however males develop smooth skin, keeled tails and enlarged hind limbs when they enter ponds to breed. With the onset of the winter rains, adults and subadults become active at night. Hundreds may be seen on the roads in a single night, with most of the adults apparently moving towards breeding sites on the Reserve. California newts breed in each of the four ponds and in the ephemeral springs on the Reserve. Males court females individually, or form large balls of writhing males with a single female in the center. Fertilization of eggs is internal by females picking up spermataphores. Females lay many spherical egg masses of 10 to 40 eggs on vegetation and debris. The eggs hatch after 10 or more days, and larvae take several months to metamorphose, depending on water temperature, food availability, and other environmental variables. Newts will spend several years on land before reaching the size of sexual maturity. At the UC Hastings Natural Reserve, Pete Trenham73 observed that adult newts commonly moved 3 km from their breeding pond, and occasionally over 4 km, in a given year.

California Slender Salamander; Photo Courtesy of Joyce Gross © 2002 Joyce GrossCalifornia slender salamander, Batrachoseps attenuatus (Plethodontidae Family) – This is another of the common salamanders of the Reserve. They are relatively small (ca. 3-6 cm SVL) with long, thick tails, tiny limbs, and large, forward-facing eyes. Dorsal coloration is variable, and may include slate-grey, mottled, and thick brick-red dorsal stripes. They are mostly found during the moist months, usually December through May, under rocks, logs, and cover boards on the Reserve, although a few can be observed on the surface on moist nights. Unlike California newts, slender salamanders do not have a larval stage. Instead, they lay terrestrial eggs that hatch directly into small juveniles.

Arboreal Salamander; Photo by Mike BenardArboreal salamanders, Aneides lugubris (Plethodontidae Family) – These large (6-10 cm SVL) salamanders are slate grey, and uncommonly observed on the Reserve. Arboreal salamanders may be observed under cover boards in damp weather. They are active on damp, rainy nights. Adults often will be found on these nights on oak trees next to cracks and holes in the tree. When approached, they retreat into the holes. Several such trees in which arboreal salamanders have been repeatedly observed on rainy nights are along the driveway from the sign-in box to the station. Another tree is the interior live oak (Quercus wislizenii) just to the west of the porch. Arboreal salamanders, like slender salamanders, are direct-developers, without a larval period.

Ensatina; Photo by Mike BenardEnsatina, Ensatina eschscholtzii (Plethodontidae Family) – These medium salamanders appear similar to California newts, with reddish-brown dorsal coloration and light-yellow belly coloration. They can be differentiated from newts, however, by their smooth skin, relatively slender legs, and relatively longer snout. Ensatina appear to be rare on the Reserve; only two have been observed, both on rainy nights above ground in 2003.


Photo Credits: Title, Treefrog, Newts, Arboreal Salamander, and Ensatina (Mike Benard), Slender Salamander (Joyce Gross). For more pictures see:

This page last updated: June 24, 2005  

Contact: Dr. Virginia Boucher
John Muir Institute of the Environment
109 The Barn, University of California, Davis, CA 95616
Phone: 530-752-6949; email:

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