Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander

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Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander

Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum

ListedMarch 11, 1967
FamilyAmbystomidae (Salamander)
DescriptionDark, stout-bodied salamander with a broad head and a blunt snout.
HabitatShallow, vegetated ponds for breeding; moist soils in chaparral or forested upland areas in the summer.
Reproduction200 eggs laid singly.
ThreatsLoss of habitat.


The Santa Cruz long-toed salamander, Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum, a subspecies of the long-toed salamander, has a snout-to-vent (anal opening) length of up to 3.6 in (9 cm). The body is stout, the head broad, and the snout blunt. Long, slender toes (four on the front and five on the rear feet) appear splayed. Color is a shiny dark brown to black with lighter spotting.


To avoid the drying effects of direct sunlight, the Santa Cruz salamander spends most of its life underground in animal burrows or in chambers dug along the root systems of shrubs and woody plants. Adult salamanders are omnivorous, feeding on insects, eggs, larvae, plant matter, and sometimes smaller salamanders.

When the rainy season begins in September or October, salamanders leave their summer feeding grounds and migrate to habitual breeding ponds. Moving only on wet or foggy nights, individuals gradually make their way to these ponds, where they pair and breed. Mating reaches its peak during January and February when heavy rains have filled the ponds. The female lays her eggs on the submerged stalks of spike rush or similar aquatic plants.Each of about 200 eggs is laid singly and attached to the vegetation. Eggs hatch in about a week, and larvae begin to metamorphose, a process that takes 90-140 days, depending on temperature and weather conditions. In March, adult salamanders return to the summer feeding grounds, leaving the larvae to develop. When ponds begin to dry out toward the end of summer, juveniles seek shelter underground. During the next rainy season, these juveniles disperse and do not return to the breeding pond until sexually mature in three or four years.


Summer habitat is typically moist soils in chap-arral or more heavily forested upland areas along the coast. Shade and an abundance of soil humus are prime requirements. Breeding ponds are relatively shallow and support abundant submerged vegetation. They fill with rainwater in winter and spring and dry by late summer. Ponds must hold water for at least 90 days, long enough for larvae to develop into juveniles.


The Santa Cruz long-toed salamander was discovered in 1954 at Valencia Lagoon in Santa Cruz County. A relict species, it was widely distributed throughout California more than 10,000 years ago, during and immediately after the last glaciation. As the climate became warmer and drier, several populations were isolated in the region between Santa Cruz and Monterey and developed into a distinct subspecies.

The Santa Cruz salamander is found only in Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties in four distinct populations near the towns of Bennett, Ellicott, Seascape, and Valencia.


Because breeding ponds are used year after year, their destruction or alteration poses a grave threat to this salamander's survival. The breeding pond at ValenciaValencia Lagoonwas half-filled during highway construction in 1955, and in 1969 the remaining wetlands were drained and an artificial pond built at the site. The salamander survived but did not flourish. Breeding ponds at Seascape and Bennett are threatened by agricultural and residential development.

Conservation and Recovery

In 1988 U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel helped state agencies devise a management plan for the Valencia Lagoon. The plan includes a redesign of habitat ponds and provides piped-in water from a nearby well to maintain water levels in dry years. Ponds at Ellicott were purchased by the federal government and are now protected as a wildlife refuge. In addition to protecting the ponds, it is important to preserve upland woodlands, where the salamanders feed in the summer. The state of California owns the Santa Cruz Long-Toed Salamander Ecological Reserve and areas at Ellicott Station, which provide some protection for a portion of the salamander's habitat.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
Eastside Federal Complex
911 N. E. 11th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232-4181
Telephone: (503) 231-6121


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1976. "Santa Cruz Long-Toed Salamander Recovery Plan." U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon.

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Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander

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Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander