AmphibiaWeb - Batrachoseps attenuatus


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Batrachoseps attenuatus (Eschscholtz, 1833)
California Slender Salamander
Subgenus: Batrachoseps
family: Plethodontidae
subfamily: Hemidactyliinae
genus: Batrachoseps
Species Description: Eschscholtz, J. F. von. 1833. Zoologischer Atlas, enthaltend Abbildungen und Beschreibungen neuer Thierarten, während des Flottcapitains von Kotzebue zweiter Reise um die Welt, auf Russisch-Kaiserlich Kriegsschupp Predpriaetië in den Jahren 1823–1826. . . . herausgegeben von D. Martin Heinrich Rathke. Fünftes Heft. Berlin: G. Reimer.
Batrachoseps attenuatus
© 2010 Todd Pierson (1 of 183)
Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN Red List Status Account Least Concern (LC)
NatureServe Use NatureServe Explorer to see status.
National Status None
Regional Status None
conservation needs Access Conservation Needs Assessment Report .


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Like most of the slender salamanders (genus Batrachoseps), B. attenuatus is elongated and slender, with small, very short limbs and a long tail (1.5-2 times its snout-vent length). Each foot has 4 digits. Overall, dark brown to blackish. A diffuse dorsal stripe may be of variable colors of brick-red, brown, tan, buff, or yellow often present. Dark color on belly usually forms a fine, unbroken network. Underside of tail often lighter than belly and may appear tinged with yellow from underlying fat deposits. Fine white speckling on ventral surfaces, including midline of tail (Stebbins 1985; Petranka 1998).

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States

U.S. state distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: California, Oregon

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View distribution map in BerkeleyMapper.
amphibiandisease logo View Bd and Bsal data (603 records).
Found on the Pacific coast of North America, from southern Oregon near the mouth of the Rogue River to central California to the vicinity of the San Benito River. Also found in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada from Big Chico Creek to the American River Drainage in central California. Scattered populations inhabit California's Sacramento Valley, including Sutter Buttes. Isolated populations exist at Clipkapudi and Little Cow Creeks in Shasta County, California.

Frequency of the different dorsal stripe coloration varies with locality. Individuals in the redwood belt in the Pacific Northwest usually have red to reddish-brown dorsal stripes. In the San Francisco Bay area, many different stripe colorations may be found.

Lives in grassland (usually where there are scattered trees), chaparral, woodland, forest, and suburban yards and vacant lots (Stebbins 1985). Shows strong affinity for mature and old-growth forests in the northern part of its range (Petranka 1998). You can find them under logs, boards, bark, and in damp leaf litter and rotting logs during the period of time between the first fall rains and the onset of dry weather in the spring or summer (Stebbins 1985). They also are common in urban to suburban yards with adequate cover and leaf litter.

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Active on the ground surface during wet weather. When the soil dries up or the air temperature drops below freezing, they move underground (Hendrickson 1954; Stebbins 1951). Spends the dry summer in underground retreats, emerging with the arrival of fall rains (Stebbins 1954). Can be found in large aggregations under appropriate cover.

During breeding, sexually active males have broader, more truncated snouts than females and enlarged premaxillary teeth that project just beyond the closed mouth. However, these characters are often hard to see (Petranka 1998). Surfacing males, as well as those examined during most of the rainy season, have viable sperm in their ducts (Stebbins 1951). Mating may therefore occur in the dry summer, when the salamanders are in underground retreats (Petranka 1998).

Most females seem to lay their eggs within a few weeks after they emerge in October and November after the arrival of fall rains (Stebbins 1951). Few eggs have been found, suggesting that most females oviposit in hidden underground cavities. Most records are for surface nests (Stebbins 1951). Some nests have been found under surface debris which contain many more eggs than the average number of ovaries found in individual females, strongly suggesting that females often lay their eggs in communal nests (Maslin 1939; Storer 1925; Burke 1911; Anderson 1960). Females do not seem to actively brood the eggs or provide parental care to their young (Petranka 1998).

Natural predators of Batrachoseps species include the arboreal salamander (Aneides flavipunctatus), small snakes (e.g., Diadophis), and white-footed mice (Peromyscus) (Stebbins 1954).

When threatened, Batrachoseps species may autotomize (detach) their long tails at any segment and later regrow the lost tail (Petranka 1998). B. attenuatus can regenerate a lost tail within 1-3 years (Hendrickson 1954). B. attenuatus can employ additional defenses. When first uncovered from beneath surface objects, it coils into a tight spiral and remains still. If touched, they may rapidly coil and uncoil and fling themselves around like a spring, sometimes propelling themselves as far as 60 cm (Brodie 1977; Brodie et al. 1974; Stebbins 1951; Storer 1925).

Batrachoseps species may produce toxic skin secretions (Cunningham 1960, Hubbard 1903). More specifically, B. attenuatus produces adhesive secretions from granular glands (Evans 1994) in its body and tail. These secretions are released when B. attenuatus is threatened by predators or otherwise touched and tampered with. This salamander is known to completely immobilize Thamnophis predators by looping its tail around the snakes' heads, forming a knot, and coating them with adhesive secretions. There is no significant evidence indicating the toxicity in B. attenuatus's secretions, though they have been noted to produce burning tastes in humans and cause discomfort in birds (Arnold 1982).

As a plethodon salamander, this species is assumed to reproduce via direct development.

Trends and Threats
Abundant throughout its range (D. Wake, personal communication).

Populations in northern California seem to be most dense in mature forests (Petranka 1998). In the Coast Range of California and Oregon, B. attenuatus is more abundant in old-growth forests compared to recently logged forests (Welsh and Lind 1988; Welsh and Lind 1991). Bury (1983) censused amphibians in old-growth redwood forest plots and matched plots of redwood forest regrowing after recent logging. B. attenuatus was 10 times more abundant in the old-growth compared to logged forest.

Relation to Humans
Often found in urban, suburban yards and lots as long as there is adequate cover (Stebbins 1985); therefore this salamander seems tolerant of moderate habitat alteration from human activity.

As recently as 1954, all populations of Batrachoseps in California were assigned to this species, but on the basis of work by Brame and Murray (1968) and especially Yanev (1980), the range of this species is restricted to northern California and the north-central Sierra Nevada.

This species was featured in the News of the Week on August 30, 2021:

Despite lacking specialized climbing structures, a wide range of salamanders are known to climb vegetation, trees, or rocks. Their ability to cling and climb allows these salamanders access to more food resources, to more suitable microclimates, and to escape predators. O'Donnell and Deban (2021) explored what factors contribute to this ability across a wide range of size, morphology, and ecological niches in salamanders. They found that the adhesive nature of their mucus coating was a major factor, but that cling ability also was associated with body mass and the amount of body contact area utilized, which include feet, tail, belly, and ventral surface of their head, to increase cling. The best clingers in their experiments were the small plethodontid salamanders, such as Batrachoseps attenuatus, Desmognathus aeneus, D. ocoee, Eurycea guttolineata, and E. wilderae. However, plethodontid salamanders in general, like large salamander Desmognathus quadramaculatus, were comparable or exceed the cling ability of arboreal and scansorial frogs. (AChang)

This species was featured in the News of the Week on November 1, 2021:

Social behaviors typically evolve due to the benefits of associating with others, but they can also present risks such as disease transmission. Ritchie et al. (2021) examined the costs of sociality in the California slender salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus), a terrestrial salamander, which gather in close social aggregations, by testing whether sociality increased transmission risk of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a fungal pathogen that causes the disease chytridiomycosis. In captivity, B. attenuatus exhibited random mixing within social groups, resulting in high contact rates and high transmission, resulting in 50% mortality after one month. When social group size was manipulated, direct Bd transmission was magnified in larger social groups. The results show that the innate behavior of group formation represents a per-individual risk of socially acquired pathogens and highlights a cost of sociality in terrestrial salamanders, underscoring the general susceptibility of social animals to novel invasive pathogens. (VVredenburg)

See another account at


Adams, D. R. (1968). ''Stomach contents of the salamander Batrachoseps attenuatus in California.'' Herpetologica, 24, 170-172.

Anderson, P. K. (1960). "Ecology and evolution in island populations of salamanders in the San Francisco Bay region." Ecological Monographs, 30, 359-384.

Arnold, S. J. (1982). ''A quantitative approach to antipredator performance: salamander defense against snake attack.'' Copeia, 1982, 247-253.

Block, W. M. and Morrison, M. L. (1998). ''Habitat relationships of amphibian and reptiles in California oak woodlands.'' Journal of Herpetology, 32(1), 51-60.

Brame, A. H., Jr. and Murray, K. F. (1968). ''Three new slender salamanders (Batrachoseps) with a discussion of relationships and speciation within the genus.'' Bulletin of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, (4), 1-35.

Brodie, E. D., Jr. (1977). "Salamander antipredator postures." Copeia, 1977, 523-535.

Brodie, E. D., Jr., Johnson, J. A., and Dodd, C. K., Jr. (1974). "Immobility as a defensive behavior in salamanders." Herpetologica, 30, 79-85.

Burke, C. V. (1911). ''Note on Batrachoseps attenuatus Esch.'' The American Naturalist, 45, 413-414.

Bury, R. B. (1983). "Differences in amphibian populations in logged and old growth redwood forest." Northwest Science, 57, 167-178.

Bury, R. B. and Martin, M. (1973). "Comparative studies on the distribution and foods of plethodontid salamanders in the redwood region of northern California." Journal of Herpetology, 7, 331-335.

Cunningham, J. D. (1960). ''Aspects of the ecology of the Pacific Slender Salamander, Batrachoseps pacificus, in southern California.'' Ecology, 41, 88-99.

Evans, C. M., & Brodie, E. D. (1994). Adhesive Strength of Amphibian Skin Secretions. Journal of Herpetology, 28(4), 499–502.

Hendrickson, J. R. (1954). ''Ecology and systematics of salamanders of the genus Batrachoseps.'' University of California Publications in Zoology, 54, 1-46.

Hubbard, M. E. (1903). ''Correlated protective devices in some California salamanders.'' University of California Publications in Zoology, 1, 157-170.

Jackusch, E. L. (1993). ''Evolution of a reaction norm in salamanders of the genus Batrachoseps (Annual Meeting of the American Society of Zoologists, Los Angeles, California, USA, December 26-30, 1993).'' American Zoologist, 33(5), 24A.

Maiorana, V. C. (1978). "Behavior of an unobservable species: diet selection by a salamander." Copeia, 1978, 664-672.

Maslin, T. P., Jr. (1939). ''Egg-laying of the Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus).'' Copeia, 1939, 209-212.

Petranka, J. W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington D.C. and London.

Stebbins, R. C. (1954). "Natural history of the salamanders of the Plethodontid genus Ensatina." University of California Publications in Zoology, 54(2), 47-124.

Stebbins, R. C. (1954). Amphibians and Reptiles of Western North America. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Stebbins, R. C. (1985). A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Stebbins, R.C. (1951). Amphibians of Western North America. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Storer, T. I. (1925). "A synopsis of the amphibia of California." University of California Publications in Zoology, 27, 1-342.

Wake, D. B., and Castanet, J. (1995). ''A skeletochronological study of growth and age in relation to adult size in Batrachoseps attenuatus.'' Journal of Herpetology, 29(1), 60-65.

Welsh, H. H., Jr. and Lind, A. J. (1988). ''Old growth forests and the distribution of the terrestrial herpetofauna.'' Management of amphibians, reptiles, and mammals in North America, General Technical Report RM-166. R. C. Szaro, K. E. Severson, and D. R. Patton, eds., USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experimental Station, Fort Collins, Colorado, 439-455.

Welsh, H. H., Jr. and Lind, A. J. (1991). ''The structure of the herpetofaunal assemblage in the Douglas-fir/hardwood forests of northwestern California and southwestern Oregon.'' Wildlife and Vegetation of Unmanaged Douglas-fir Forests, USDA Forest Service, General Technical Report PNW-GTR-285. L. F. Ruggiero, K. B. Aubry, A. B. Carey, and M. H. Huff, eds., USDA Forest Service, 394-413.

Yanev, K. P. (1979). ''Biogeography and distribution of three parapatric salamander species in coastal and borderland California.'' The California Islands: Proceedings of a multidisciplinary symposium. D. M. Power, eds., Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, CA., 531-550.

Originally submitted by: John Romansic, David B. Wake (first posted 1999-04-15)
Description by: Sophie dela Cruz (updated 2024-02-06)
Distribution by: Sophie dela Cruz (updated 2024-02-06)
Life history by: Sophie dela Cruz (updated 2024-02-06)
Larva by: Sophie dela Cruz (updated 2024-02-06)
Trends and threats by: Sophie dela Cruz (updated 2024-02-06)
Relation to humans by: Sophie dela Cruz (updated 2024-02-06)

Edited by: Tate Tunstall (11/12/03), Michelle S. Koo (2024-02-06)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2024 Batrachoseps attenuatus: California Slender Salamander <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Jun 24, 2024.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2024. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 24 Jun 2024.

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