Santa Cruz long-toed Salamander

Description and biology

This species of salamander is so–named because of its long, slim toes. It has a thick body and measures just over 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) long. Its broad head ends in a blunt snout. The salamander is glossy dark brown to black in color with light spots.

The Santa Cruz long–toed salamander is primarily nocturnal (active at night). It feeds on insects (including their eggs and larvae) and vegetation. Garter snakes prey on young and adult salamanders; aquatic insects eat the salamander’s eggs and larvae.

These salamanders migrate to their breeding ponds in November. Breeding peaks in January and February after winter rains have increased the size of the ponds. After mating, female Santa Cruz long–toed salamanders will lay their eggs singly on stalks of spike rush or other vegetation below the pond’s surface.

Each female will lay about 200 eggs, which hatch in one week. The young salamanders metamorphose, or change from their larval state to their adult one, after 90 to 145 days.

Habitat and current distribution

The Santa Cruz long–toed salamander is found only in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties in California. The total number of salamanders in existence is currently not known.

These long–toed salamanders require two distinct habitats. The first is a pond with a good amount of plant life for breeding, egg laying, hatching, and metamorphosis. The second is an area of dense vegetation relatively close to the pond that is used during the remainder of the year.

This dry area also tends to contain mice, gophers, and moles that create burrows in the ground. The salamanders often spend much time in these burrows.

History and conservation measures

The Santa Cruz long–toed salamander was first discovered in 1954. Biologists (people who study living organisms) believe this salamander is related to a prehistoric species that was once widespread, but began to disappear after the beginning of the last major Ice Age (about 40,000 years ago).

This salamander is in danger of losing its habitat. Areas around the salamanders’ habitat have been developed into farms and communities. Further development, including the building of a highway through the region, is a continuing threat. The runoff of pesticides from nearby farms also threatens to contaminate the water in the salamander’s range.

In Santa Cruz County, the Elliott Slough National Wildlife Refuge and the adjacent State of California Ecological Reserve have been established to preserve the remaining Santa Cruz long–toed salamander habitat.