The Wandering Salamander is relatively small and slender, reaching a maximum total length of 13 cm. They have small limbs, a tail that is circular in cross-section, and 14-16
Listen to the Indigenous words for “salamander” here!
The Wandering Salamander could be mistaken for the Northwestern Salamander, Ensatina, or Western Red-backed Salamander. The Northwestern Salamander is larger and stouter, has distinct on the head, and lacks or patterning. The Ensatina lacks patterning except for some light flecking on the sides, and has a distinctive constriction at the base of the tail. Western Red-backed Salamanders have much smaller legs relative to their bodies.
Credit: Joe Crowley
Credit: John Clare
Credit: Joe Crowley
Credit: Andrew Dubois
Western Red-backed Salamnder
The Wandering Salamander has a puzzling distribution. It is native to coastal northern California, and has established populations on Vancouver Island and some adjacent smaller islands, but is not found anywhere in between. Wandering Salamanders may have been anthropogenically (by humans) introduced to Vancouver Island, as genetic evidence has shown that Vancouver Island populations are nearly identical to California populations.
Wandering Salamanders are associated with coastal mature and old-growth coniferous forests. They are typically found in forests with stands of Douglas-fir and Western Hemlock at low elevations. They require very moist environments and prefer areas with large amounts of woody debris and leaf litter. Wandering Salamanders are fully terrestrial, and deposit eggs in moist microsites in terrestrial habitats. They are very adept climbers and are often found living in trees. Wandering Salamanders willoverwinter below the frost line in talus slopes, mammal burrows, root hollows, and rock crevices.
Wandering Salamanders breed in the early spring, and females will lay eggs in late spring or early summer. The females will attach 3-28 eggs (average 6-9) individually to the roof of a nest chamber in such places as a rocky crevice, wood hollow, or moss mat in an old-growth tree. Females will protect the eggs until hatching occurs about 3 months later in August or September. In some cases, both the male and female have been observed guarding eggs. Wandering Salamanders have no larval stage, and the gills are absorbed around the time of hatching. Juvenile females reach sexual maturity after 3 years and only reproduce every other year, while males mature in their second year and will attempt to breed every year. The lifespan of Wandering Salamanders is up to 20 years.
Wandering Salamanders are generalist feeders, but their favourite foods in British Columbia are ants, coleopterans, and gastropods. Juveniles eat the same prey items as adults, but select for smaller sizes.
The primary threat to Wandering Salamanders in Canada is habitat loss and degradation, as their preferred habitat of coastal mature forests are highly sought after by the logging industry. Climate change may also pose a significant future threat to the Wandering Salamander as drought events become prolonged and more frequent.
Did You Know?
The Wandering Salamander is a member of the family Plethodontidae, or the lungless salamanders. As they do not have lungs, they absorb oxygen through their skin and so must remain moist at all times to allow for diffusion of gases through the skin.
Research has shown that Wandering Salamanders may spend more time in their lives in trees than on the ground. Some individuals may spend their entire lives high up in canopies in fern mats. The large, thick fern mats hold a lot of water, allowing Wandering Salamanders to stay moist year-round.