Ensatina eschscholtzii (commonly known by its genus name, Ensatina) is a complex of plethodontid (lungless) salamanders found in coniferous forests, oak woodland and chaparral from British Columbia, through Washington, Oregon, across California (where all seven subspecies variations are located), all the way down to Baja California in Mexico.
As a ring species
The Ensatina salamander has been described as a ring species in the mountains surrounding the Californian Central Valley. The complex forms a horseshoe shape around the mountains, and though interbreeding can happen between each of the 19 populations around the horseshoe, the Ensatina eschscholtzii subspecies on the western end of the horseshoe cannot interbreed with the Ensatina klauberi on the eastern end. As such it is thought to be an example of incipient speciation, and provides an illustration of "nearly all stages in a speciation process" (Dobzhansky,1958).
Habitat and description
The Ensatina subspecies E. e. eschscholtzii, or Monterey Ensatina, can be found in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and the California coastal mountains. They reach a total length of three to five inches, and can be identified primarily by the structure of the tail, and how it is narrower at the base. This salamander is the only type that has this tail structure and five toes on the back feet.
Males often have longer tails than the females, and many of the salamanders have lighter colored limbs in comparison to the rest of the body. The salamanders lay their eggs underground, often in threes, which then hatch directly into salamanders, skipping the usual aquatic phase.
The ensatina can usually be found under logs, brush, by or in streams and lakes, and in other moist places. Because they breathe through their pores, distress in the animal can be caused by improper handling by human hands. They may exude a toxic milky secretion from the tail.
- Yellow Blotched Ensatina — E. e. croceater (Cope, 1868)
- Monterey Ensatina — E. e. eschscholtzii Gray, 1850
- Large Blotched Ensatina — E. e. klauberi Dunn, 1929
- Oregon Ensatina — E. e. oregonensis (Girard, 1856)
- Painted Ensatina — E. e. picta Wood, 1940
- Sierra Nevada Ensatina — E. e. platensis (Jiménez de la Espada, 1875)
- Yellow Eyed Ensatina — E. e. xanthoptica Stebbins, 1949