California Tiger Salamander


In the Zoo

Scientific Information

Scientific Name: Ambystomidae californiense
Class: Amphibia
Order: Caudata
Family: Equidae
Genus: Ambystomidae




Length: 3-4.2 inches 2.7-4.6 inches
Weight: 126 grams 126 grams

Lifestyle and Lifespan

Diet: Carnivorous
Activity Timeframe: Nocturnal
Interactivity: Solitary
Sexual Dimorphism:
Gestation: 2-4 weeks
Lifespan in the Wild: 5-6 years
Lifespan in Captivity: 12-15 years

Geographic Range

North America, California, Central Valley and bordering foothills


Status in the Wild: Vulnerable
Threats: Habitat Loss


This salamander is a stocky built, terrestrial salamander with a broad, rounded snout. Adult males are about 8" long, females a little less than 7". Coloration consists of white or pale yellow spots or bars on a black background on the back and sides. The belly varies from almost uniform white or pale yellow to a variegated pattern of white or pale yellow and black. The salamander's small eyes protrude from their heads.

Species Specifics

These salamander have 12 costal grooves (resemble bumps) on each side of their body.

Physical Characteristics




Foothills, coastal grasslands and seasonal wetlands


Endemic to California, and found in the Central Valley and adjacent foothills and coastal grassland. They are also the most wide-ranging salamander species in North America, living throughout most of the United States, southern Canada and eastern Mexico.


Eats earthworms, snails, insects, fish and other aquatic invertebrates. Occasionally cannibalistic.Larvae will eat zooplankton, other larvae and aquatic invertebrates.

Ecological Web

Carnivore. Primary consumer. These salamanders are highly effective predators, they emerge from their burrows at night to feed on worms, insects, frogs and even other salamanders.

Activity and Behavior

Activity Pattern

These salamanders are rarely seen, due to nocturnal breeding migrations, and living in underground burrows.


Social Behavior

Reproductive Behavior

These salamanders breed from late winter into early spring in large temporary natal ponds. They are prolific breeders. They emerge quickly, breed quickly and then return to their burrows. They may breed 2 or 3 times a year this way. During the rainy season in January and February, the California tiger salamander migrates to large vernal ponds to mate. They are especially vulnerable to dehydration and heat stress during their overland movement. Females attach one egg at a time to twigs, grass, vegetation or detritus. The eggs are covered by a jelly-like membrane. They are distinguished by a pale yellow brown coloring, and are about 2 mm in diameter. Eggs hatch 2-4 weeks after deposition. The larvae hatch in two to four weeks.


The larvae are a yellowish-gray and have feathery external gills and dorsal fins. They will change into salamanders in about two and a half to three months. While they larvae are small they feed on microscopic organisms. As they get larger they feed on tiny crustaceans and aquatic insect larvae. The California tiger salamander spends the summer underground in ground squirrel burrows. After the first few heavy rains in the fall, they come out of their burrows and migrate to breeding pools.



Listed as Vulnerable by IUCN. Its numbers have dropped due to habitat loss, predation from crayfish and bullfrogs, being hit by cars during migration and interbreeding with the non-native tiger salamanders.


Current Threats

Habitat Loss

Our Role

How You Can Help

Fascinating Facts

Adult California Tiger Salamanders can live as long as 30 or maybe even 40 years!

Tiger salamanders are one of the largest terrestrial salamanders in the U.S. - the biggest specimen was 13" long!

Salamanders are capable of regenerating an amputated limb.

Courtship dances consist of very rapid head-tail circling with salamanders touching side-side noses against each other's hips.

A local Stanford University population of tiger salamanders is the largest remaining intact population in California and the only one on the peninsula. The salamanders were thought to have disappeared from the Stanford area during the 1970's, but were rediscovered in 1992.


"California Tiger Salamander." (On-line) Oakland Zoo. Accessed September 21, 2016 at

Redding II, J. 2000. "Ambystoma californiense" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed September 21, 2016 at

Geoffrey Hammerson. 2004. Ambystoma californiense. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2004: e.T1098A3234573.

"Tiger Salamander." (On-line) National Geographic. Accessed September 21, 2016 at

"California Tiger Salamander." CuriOdyssey. Accessed September 21, 2016 at

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9777 Golf Links Road Oakland, CA 94605