Ambystoma californiense
California Tiger Salamander
Subgenus: Heterotriton
family: Ambystomatidae

© 2010 Bill Stagnaro (1 of 123)

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Conservation Status (definitions)
IUCN (Red List) Status Vulnerable (VU)
NatureServe Status Use NatureServe Explorer to see status.
Other International Status None
National Status Threatened
Regional Status Threatened



View distribution map using BerkeleyMapper.

The California Tiger Salamander is a stocky salamander with a broad, rounded snout. Its eyes are relatively small but protruding, with black irises. The base dorsal color is black, and the dorsal side is commonly marked with bold patches of lemon-yellow spots that are concentrated along the sides of the animal. The belly is generally gray in color, and may display a few small spots of white or yellow color. Adults generally have 12 costal grooves.

Distribution and Habitat

Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: United States

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


View distribution map using BerkeleyMapper.
Distribution is restricted to the Central Valley of California and lower elevations to the west. The range includes areas around Sonoma, Petaluma, and the Colusa-Yolo county line, south to the vernal pools in Tulare County, and amongst the coast ranges south to the ponds and vernal pools in the Santa Ynez Drainage (Santa Barbara County).

The habitat of this salamander is restricted to grassland and low foothills, where the long-lasting vernal pools it uses for breeding exist. Permanent aquatic sites can be used for breeding, but use of such sites is only common in the absence of predatory fish. Dry season habitat sites are within reasonable distance of breeding sites, and generally consist of small mammal burrows as well as man-made enclosures.

Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
The California Tiger Salamander engages in nocturnal breeding migrations. Movement occurs from dry season refuge sites to the breeding ponds from November to April, thought most commonly from December to March. These migrations don't occur until the ground has become moist, because the breeding pools do not form until the soil below them becomes saturated from the autumn rains. Males precede females to the breeding sites, and males often outnumber females at these sites. Shortly after breeding, the adults vacate the ponds. Eggs are deposited singly or in small groups of 2-4, submerged in the relatively shallow depths of the temporary pools. A minimum of 10 weeks is required for complete development (including metamorphosis).

Trends and Threats

Like many other amphibians in central California, this species has suffered from habitat lost due to the conversion of land for agricultural and urban uses (Fisher and Shaffer 1996). In Sonoma County, 95% of the salamander's preferred vernal pool and grassland/oakland habitat has been lost. The Sonoma population was classified as Endangered in 2003, and the Santa Barbara population of Ambystoma californiense was listed as Endangered in 2000. Another threat comes from the introduction of predatory fishes such as the mosquitofish, which is still used as a method of mosquito control. California Tiger Salamanders also seem to have been adversely affected by the 1986-1990 California drought, which led to a decrease in suitable breeding habitat.

Relation to Humans

The California Department of Fish and Game has just declared Ambystoma californiense a candidate Endangered Species, as of February 5, 2009. Within one year the decision will be made by Fish and Game as to whether all California Tiger Salamanders will be protected under the Endangered classification. Public action will help determine if Ambystoma californiense receives this protection. If you agree that the California Tiger Salamander should be declared Endangered, write to:

California Fish and Game Commission
1416 Ninth Street
P.O. Box 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090
Phone (916) 653-4899
Fax (916) 653-5040

For more information see The Center for Biological Diversity's website.

Possible reasons for amphibian decline

Intensified agriculture or grazing
Predators (natural or introduced)

Recent molecular research has supported full species status for A. californiense, in contrast to its previous status as a subspecies of Ambystoma tigrinum (Shaffer and McKnight 1996). Full species status for A. californiense is also supported by its geographical isolation plus differences in coloration and natural history seen in A. californiense, as compared to other members of the A. tigrinum complex (Petranka 1998).

See another account at


Fisher, R. N., and Shaffer, H. B. (1996). "The decline of amphibians in California's Great Central Valley." Conservation Biology, 10(5), 1387-1397.

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

Shaffer, H. B., and McKnight, M. L. (1996). ''The polytypic species revisited: differentiation and molecular phylogenetics of the Tiger Salamander Ambystoma tigrinum (Amphibia: Caudata) complex.'' Evolution, 50, 417-433.

Written by Greg LaMonte, modified by Meredith J. Mahoney (glamonte AT, UC Berkeley
First submitted 1999-10-04
Edited by Kellie Whittaker (2009-02-23)

Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2009 Ambystoma californiense: California Tiger Salamander <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Jul 5, 2020.

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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2020. <> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 5 Jul 2020.

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