With all the rain we’ve had recently, you may have noticed lots of salamanders and newts roaming around the Bay Area. One of these adorable critters could have been the Arboreal Salamander (Aneides lugubris), endemic to California and northern Baja California. These salamanders can be found in coastal oak woodlands from Humboldt County all the way down to Baja California del Norte, as well as in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
While the precipitation was a cause for celebration for plants, animals, and ski bums alike, the rainfall was literally a breath of fresh air for these slimy amphibians. Arboreal Salamanders don’t have lungs. They conduct respiration through their skin and their mouth tissues, which requires them to live in damp environments. As a result, they tend to take refuge on moist, mossy rock faces, under rocks and woody debris, and inside stumps. However, when the soil moisture is high after it rains, Arboreal Salamanders can really come out to play. During the dry season, these salamanders seek out cool, moist areas underground or in trees to rest and stay hydrated until the rainy season begins again.
You can identify the Arboreal Salamander by their brown bodies covered in small, creamy, yellow spots. They also have long toes and rounded tails adapted for climbing. So don’t be surprised if you see one way up in an oak tree; some have been spotted sixty feet above the ground! Although, if you happen to come across one suddenly, you may hear them before you see them. This salamander often “squeaks” or “barks” when disturbed.
These squeaky amphibians might look cute, but don’t be fooled: their bark is NOT worse than their bite. Arboreal Salamanders have sharp teeth and strong jaws, and they are not afraid to use them. When faced with danger, Arboreal Salamanders will bite and thrash. Humans, snakes, and other salamanders beware! Both males and females are aggressively territorial, and when kept in close proximity with one another, have been known to bite each others’ tails.
When not nibbling on one another, these salamanders eat a variety of small invertebrates including millipedes, worms, snails, ants, termites, sow bugs, moths, and centipedes. Considered “sit-and-wait” predators, adults forage for small invertebrates on the ground at night. When the right prey comes along, the salamander captures these unfortunate critters with its tongue and then crushes them with its strong jaw and sharp teeth.
Hopefully the rainfall in California will keep up, and the coming months will be filled with Arboreal Salamander sightings. However, don’t be fooled by their size or their squeak. Remember to look, not touch, while admiring these feisty critters.