By Sharon Gibbons
The California Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps attenuates) is found in the Bay Area beginning in the fall as the first early rain comes and dampens the litter in our gardens and on forest floors. We recently found Slender Salamanders at the Richmond Greenway bioswale while planting last month during the second Saturday volunteer work day. The salamanders were tucked in the leaf litter where we were planting native grasses and reeds. The bioswales help provide a natural and healthy habitat by providing native plant cover for the insect life the salamanders rely on. The swales also filter urban pollutants from the rain water keeping the salamanders healthy in an urban environment.
Slender Salamanders are terrestrial amphibians that live in our local parks and gardens hiding under the cover of damp leaves, bark and rotting wood. They have no lungs and conduct respiration through their skin and mouth tissues which requires that they live in moist environments. They are more active at dawn and dusk especially after light rain, but are mostly nocturnal. They vary in dark colors with 18-22 costal grooves and have four toes, which distinguishes them from other western salamanders who have five toes. They have a short range area and live above ground from about October to May unless it becomes too hot or cold. They retreat underground and live in old root channels and earthworm burrows.
They eat small insects and use their sticky projectile tongue to capture prey. They reproduce by laying eggs in communal nests in October and November and the eggs hatch in late January and February. For protection, the Slender Salamander relies on stillness, but if threatened, can spring away coiling and thrashing and even lose its tail which can then regenerate. Slender Salamanders have many predators such as snakes and birds.
Slender Salamanders are found throughout coastal Northern California up into Oregon and south to Monterey. These salamanders are found in many plant communities such as oak woodland, redwood forest, Douglas Fir, riparian and grasslands. They are less common in the Central Valley due to habitat loss and are only found in riparian oak woodland corridors. So the next time, you’re gardening or hiking, look out for the Slender Salamander. They’ll be out enjoying our rainy weather.