Overview

Comprehensive Description

Description

The spotted salamander is a relatively large member of the family Ambystomatidae. Adults reach 15-25 cm total length, and have 11-13 costal grooves. Adult spotted salamanders typically contain two irregular rows of yellowish spots on a black to dark gray dorsum, though some populations contain low frequencies of individuals lacking any spotting in addition to albinos or partial albinos. Certain populations exhibit bright orange markings on the head, a pattern that has not been correlated with any taxonomic divisions. During the breeding season males have very conspicuously swollen vents, and females in breeding condition are typically larger than males. Hatchlings of this species do not contain readily identifiable markings and are characterized simply by a dull olive green color. Hatchlings may measure 12-17 mm in total length (Petranka 1998).

The taxonomy for the species remains stable though some researchers point out distinct mitochondrial clades. Phillips (1994) identified two divergent, geographically separate lineages in the Ozarks region differing by a minimum of 19 mitochondrial DNA restriction sites.

  • Petranka, J. W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London.
  • Berrill, M., Bertram, S., Wilson, A., Louis, S., Brigham, D., Stromberg, C. (1993). ''Lethal and sublethal impacts of pyrethroid insecticides on amphibian embryos and tadpoles.'' Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 12, 525-539.
  • Blem, C. R. and Blem, L. B. (1989). ''Tolerance of acidity in a Virginia population of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, (Amphibia: Ambystomatidae).'' Brimleyana, 17, 37-45.
  • Boone, M. D., and James, S. M. (2003). ''Interactions of an insecticide, herbicide, and natural stressors in amphibian community mesocosms.'' Ecological Applications, 13, 829-841.
  • Cook, R. P. (1983). ''Effects of acid precipitation on embryonic mortality of Ambystoma salamanders in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts.'' Biological Conservation, 27, 77-88.
  • Husting, E.L. (1965). ''Survival and breeding structure in a population of Ambystoma maculatum.'' Copeia, 1965(3), 352-362.
  • Kerney, R., Kim, E., Hangarter, R. P., Heiss, A. A., Bishop, C. D., and Hall, B. K. (2011). ''Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host.'' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published online before print, April 4, 2011( doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018259108 ).
  • Ouellet, M., Mikaelian, I., Paul, B. D., Rodrigue, J., and Green, D. M. (2005). ''Historical evidence of widespread chytrid infection in North American amphibian populations.'' Conservation Biology, 19, 1431-1440.
  • Petherick, A. (2010). ''A solar salamander.'' Nature News, doi:10.1038/news.2010.384.
  • Petranka, J. W., Rushlow, A. W., and Hopey, M. E. (1998). ''Predation by tadpoles of Rana sylvatica on embryos of Ambystoma maculatum: implications of ecological role reversals by Rana (predator) and Ambystoma (prey).'' Herpetologica, 54, 1-13.
  • Phillips, C.A. (1994). ''Geographic distribution of mtDNA variants and the historical biogeography of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum.'' Evolution, 48, 597-607.
  • Purrenhage, J. L., Niewiaroski, P. H., and Moore, F. B.-G. (2009). ''Population structure of spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) in a fragmented landscape.'' Molecular Ecology, 18, 235-247.
  • Sadinski, W. J. and Dunson, W. A. (1992). ''A multilevel study of effects of low pH on amphibians of temporary ponds.'' Journal of Herpetology, 26, 413-422.
  • Shoop, C.R. (1994). ''Migratory orientation of Ambystoma maculatum: movements near breeding ponds and displacements of migrating individuals.'' The Biological Bulletin, 135, 230-238.
  • Whitford, W. G., and Vinegar, A. (1966). ''Homing, survivorship, and overwintering larvae in Spotted Salamanders, Ambystoma maculatum.'' Copeia, 1966, 515-519.
  • Zamudio, K. R., and Wieczorek, A. M. (2007). ''Fine-scale spatial genetic structure and dispersal among spotted salamander ( Ambystoma maculatum ) breeding populations.'' Molecular Ecology, 16, 257-274.
  • deMaynadier, P. G. and Hunter, M. L. Jr. (1998). ''Effects of silvicultural edges on the distribution and abundance of amphibians in Maine.'' Conservation Biology, 12, 340-352.
  • deMaynadier, P. G. and Hunter, M. L. Jr. (1999). ''Forest canopy closure and juvenile emigration by pool-breeding amphibians in Maine.'' Journal of Wildlife Management, 63, 441-450.
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Distribution

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (200,000 to >2,500,000 square km (about 80,000 to >1,000,000 square miles)) Range extends throughout most of the eastern United States (except Florida) and adjacent southern Canada; west to eastern Iowa and eastern Texas (Conant and Collins 1991).

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Range Description

This species can be found throughout most of the eastern USA and adjacent southern Canada; west to eastern Iowa and eastern Texas (Conant and Collins 1991).
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Geographic Range

Spotted salamanders are found in eastern North America. Their range extends from Nova Scotia and the Gaspé Peninsula west to the northern shore of Lake Superior, and south to southern Georgia and eastern Texas. The spotted salamander is absent from most of southern New Jersey, the Prairie Peninsula in Illinois, eastern North Carolina, and the Delmarva Peninsula.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Petranka, J. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
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Distribution and Habitat

Ambystoma maculatum ranges from southeastern Canada, south to Georgia and Alabama, and west to east Texas. The species primarily inhabits mature deciduous forests with vernal pools for breeding sites, in addition to coniferous, mixed coniferous, and bottomland forests and adjoining floodplains. Spotted salamanders may be found at higher elevations in mountainous regions providing there is suitable breeding habitat (Petranka 1998).

  • Petranka, J. W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London.
  • Berrill, M., Bertram, S., Wilson, A., Louis, S., Brigham, D., Stromberg, C. (1993). ''Lethal and sublethal impacts of pyrethroid insecticides on amphibian embryos and tadpoles.'' Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 12, 525-539.
  • Blem, C. R. and Blem, L. B. (1989). ''Tolerance of acidity in a Virginia population of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, (Amphibia: Ambystomatidae).'' Brimleyana, 17, 37-45.
  • Boone, M. D., and James, S. M. (2003). ''Interactions of an insecticide, herbicide, and natural stressors in amphibian community mesocosms.'' Ecological Applications, 13, 829-841.
  • Cook, R. P. (1983). ''Effects of acid precipitation on embryonic mortality of Ambystoma salamanders in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts.'' Biological Conservation, 27, 77-88.
  • Husting, E.L. (1965). ''Survival and breeding structure in a population of Ambystoma maculatum.'' Copeia, 1965(3), 352-362.
  • Kerney, R., Kim, E., Hangarter, R. P., Heiss, A. A., Bishop, C. D., and Hall, B. K. (2011). ''Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host.'' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published online before print, April 4, 2011( doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018259108 ).
  • Ouellet, M., Mikaelian, I., Paul, B. D., Rodrigue, J., and Green, D. M. (2005). ''Historical evidence of widespread chytrid infection in North American amphibian populations.'' Conservation Biology, 19, 1431-1440.
  • Petherick, A. (2010). ''A solar salamander.'' Nature News, doi:10.1038/news.2010.384.
  • Petranka, J. W., Rushlow, A. W., and Hopey, M. E. (1998). ''Predation by tadpoles of Rana sylvatica on embryos of Ambystoma maculatum: implications of ecological role reversals by Rana (predator) and Ambystoma (prey).'' Herpetologica, 54, 1-13.
  • Phillips, C.A. (1994). ''Geographic distribution of mtDNA variants and the historical biogeography of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum.'' Evolution, 48, 597-607.
  • Purrenhage, J. L., Niewiaroski, P. H., and Moore, F. B.-G. (2009). ''Population structure of spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) in a fragmented landscape.'' Molecular Ecology, 18, 235-247.
  • Sadinski, W. J. and Dunson, W. A. (1992). ''A multilevel study of effects of low pH on amphibians of temporary ponds.'' Journal of Herpetology, 26, 413-422.
  • Shoop, C.R. (1994). ''Migratory orientation of Ambystoma maculatum: movements near breeding ponds and displacements of migrating individuals.'' The Biological Bulletin, 135, 230-238.
  • Whitford, W. G., and Vinegar, A. (1966). ''Homing, survivorship, and overwintering larvae in Spotted Salamanders, Ambystoma maculatum.'' Copeia, 1966, 515-519.
  • Zamudio, K. R., and Wieczorek, A. M. (2007). ''Fine-scale spatial genetic structure and dispersal among spotted salamander ( Ambystoma maculatum ) breeding populations.'' Molecular Ecology, 16, 257-274.
  • deMaynadier, P. G. and Hunter, M. L. Jr. (1998). ''Effects of silvicultural edges on the distribution and abundance of amphibians in Maine.'' Conservation Biology, 12, 340-352.
  • deMaynadier, P. G. and Hunter, M. L. Jr. (1999). ''Forest canopy closure and juvenile emigration by pool-breeding amphibians in Maine.'' Journal of Wildlife Management, 63, 441-450.
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Geographic Range

Spotted salamanders are found in eastern North America. Their range extends from Nova Scotia and the Gaspé Peninsula west to the northern shore of Lake Superior, and south to southern Georgia and eastern Texas. The spotted salamander is absent from most of southern New Jersey, the Prairie Peninsula in Illinois, eastern North Carolina, and the Delmarva Peninsula.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Petranka, J. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Adult spotted salamanders are 15-25 cm in total length, and females tend to be larger than males. Compared to other salamanders, the body is stout with a broadly rounded snout. The sides of the head are often swollen at the back of the jaw. The legs are large and strong with four to five toes.

When they leave their ponds, spotted salamanders are black, dark brown, or dark grey on their backs, and the belly of these salamanders is a pale greyish-blue. The common name comes from two rows of yellow or orange spots which run from the head to the end of the tail. Spotted salamanders with no spots are sometimes found, but are very rare.

Spotted salamanders have poison glands in their skin, mostly on their backs and tails. These glands release a sticky white toxic liquid when the animal is threatened.

When baby spotted salamanders hatch, they have front legs (unlike frog tadpoles), frilly red gills on the sides of their neck, and their bodies are dull green on top and very pale, almost white, underneath. Their tail are green too, and have little dark specks or blotches on them.

Range length: 150 to 250 mm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; poisonous

Average mass: 12.84 g.

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.005 W.

  • Conant, R. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Physical Description

Adult spotted salamanders are 15-25 cm in total length, and females tend to be larger than males. Compared to other salamanders, the body is stout with a broadly rounded snout. The sides of the head are often swollen at the back of the jaw. The legs are large and strong with four to five toes.

The background color of metamorphosed spotted salamanders can be black, dark brown, or dark grey, while the bottom half and under-surface of the limbs are a pale slate gray. On either side of the mid-dorsal line of the body are large, round, yellow or orange spots. The spots may vary in number from 24 to 45, and they are arranged in two irregular rows running along the sides from the head to the tail. Unspotted individuals do occur but are rare.

Spotted salamanders have poison glands in their skin, mostly on their backs and tails. These glands release a sticky white toxic liquid when the animal is threatened.

When they hatch, the larvae of this species are 12-17 mm long. Their dorsal surface is dull olive green, and they remain a dull greenish color until they transform into the adult form. The underside of larvae is nearly white, and tail is finely stippled or mottled, with dark pigment near the tip.

Range length: 150 to 250 mm.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry ; poisonous

Average mass: 12.84 g.

Average basal metabolic rate: 0.005 W.

  • Conant, R. 1975. A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Size

Length: 25 cm

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Ecology

Habitat

Comments: Spotted salamanders inhabit hardwood and mixed forests, in the vicinity of swamps and vernal pools. They are usually underground or under soil surface objects except during the breeding period. Logs, stumps, and mammal burrows provide important cover (Faccio 2003). In New York, distribution apparently is influenced by soil pH (Wyman 1988).

Eggs usually are attached to submerged stems or other objects in vernal pools and semipermanent or permanent ponds in or adjacent to forest. In many areas, the species breeds mainly in ponds inaccessible to predatory fishes; however on the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States, spotted salamanders breed in sloughs or backwater lowland areas along streams that frequently contain or are easily colonized by predatory fishes that opportunistically feed on amphibian larvae (Semlitsch 1988). Eggs may be laid in ponds when they are ice-covered if salamanders already are present in the pond (States et al. 1988).

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This species can be found in hardwood and mixed forests, vicinity of swamps and vernal pools; usually underground or under soil surface objects except during breeding period. In New York, distribution apparently is influenced by soil pH (Wyman 1988). Eggs usually are attached to submerged stems or other objects in vernal pools and semi permanent or permanent ponds in or adjacent to forest. In many areas, the species breeds mainly in ponds inaccessible to predatory fishes; however on the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the southeastern USA, spotted salamanders breed in sloughs or backwater lowland areas along streams that frequently contain or are easily colonized by predatory fishes that opportunistically feed on amphibian larvae (Semlitsch 1988). Eggs may be laid in ponds when they are ice-covered if salamanders already are present in the pond (States et al. 1988). Egg masses often exhibit an aggregated dispersion pattern.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
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Adult spotted salamanders live in forests, near ponds where they can lay their eggs. They are not often seen, because they spend most of their time hiding in dead leaves, under logs, or in tunnels under ground.

Spotted salamanders need to lay their eggs in freshwater ponds that don't have fish in them. Often these are small ponds that form when snow melts in the Spring but dry up in Autumn.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; temporary pools

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Adult spotted salamanders are most abundant in deciduous bottomland forests along rivers, but can be found in upland mixed or coniferous forests if the climate is sufficiently damp and there are ponds suitable for breeding. Adults are rarely seen because they spend most of their time hiding in leaf litter, under fallen wood, or in tunnels below ground.

Like most Ambystoma salamanders, spotted salamanders lay their eggs in fresh water, but only in ponds and pools that lack fish. They often use temporary vernal pools.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; temporary pools

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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Migrations between nonbreeding and breeding habitats extend up to several hundred meters. Mean distance between breeding site and summer/winter habitat was 192 m, 150 m, 118 m, and 64 m in four studies; see Kleeberger and Werner (1983) and Madison (1997). In Vermont, 5 radio-tagged individuals moved 52-219 m (mean 137 m) from the edge of their breeding pool (Faccio 2003).

Individuals tend to enter and exit breeding ponds along the same route in successive years (Phillips and Sexton 1989).

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Larvae eat mostly small aquatic invertebrates (especially copepods and cladoderans, also chaoborids); sometimes also amphibian larvae when available. Adults eat various terrestrial invertebrates (DeGraaf and Rudis 1983).

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Food Habits

Salamander larvae are aggressive predators. They are generalists, eating whatever small animals they can catch. When they first hatch they feed mainly on small insects, and Branchiopoda crustaceans like Daphnia and Anostraca. As they get larger they take larger prey, including Isopoda, Amphipoda, larger insects, frog tadpoles, and other salamander larvae. In times of overcrowding, usually when the vernal pools start to dry up, spotted salamander larvae may become cannibalistic and attack members of their own species.

The adult spotted salamander uses its sticky tongue to catch food. Their diet consists mainly of forest floor invertebrates, including Oligochaeta, Gastropoda, Diplopoda, Chilopoda, Araneae, and a wide variety of Insecta. They sometimes also eat smaller salamanders, such as the red-backed salamander, Plethodon_cinereus.

Animal Foods: amphibians; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks; terrestrial worms; aquatic or marine worms; aquatic crustaceans; zooplankton

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Food Habits

Salamander larvae are aggressive predators. They are generalists, eating whatever small animals they can catch. When they first hatch they feed mainly on small insects, and branchiopod crustaceans like Daphnia and fairy shrimp. As they get larger they take larger prey, including isopods, amphipods, larger insects, frog tadpoles, and other salamander larvae. In times of overcrowding, usually when the vernal pools start to dry up, spotted salamander larvae may become cannibalistic and attack members of their own species.

The adult spotted salamander uses its sticky tongue to catch food. Their diet consists mainly of forest floor invertebrates, including earthworms, snails and slugs, millipedes, centipedes, spiders, and a wide variety of insects. They sometimes also eat smaller salamanders, such as the red-backed salamander, Plethodon cinereus.

Animal Foods: amphibians; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; mollusks; terrestrial worms; aquatic or marine worms; aquatic crustaceans; zooplankton

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore , Eats non-insect arthropods); planktivore

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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

Spotted salamanders can be important to the community of species that live and breed in vernal pools, affecting the abundance and diversity of other species in the pools, especially other amphibians. Gray treefrogs (Hyla_chrysoscelis and Hyla_versicolor) avoid breeding in ponds with spotted salamanders in them, and depending on the timing and size of the other species present, spotted salamanders may reduce the population of other Ambystoma species in their pools.

Mutualist Species:

  • a unicellular green alga Oophila_amblystomatis 

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Predation

The egg masses are covered in a thick jelly that helps keep them from drying out, and protects them from some egg-eating predators, such as Hirudinea and Centrarchidae. A special species of one-celled green algae grows on the eggs too, it gives extra oxygen to the eggs and may help hide the eggs with its green color.

Despite this protection, a number of predators eat spotted salamander eggs: adult Notophthalmus, Rana sylvatica, Astacidae and some species of Trichoptera (especially Ptilostomis_postica and Banksiola_dossuaria) and Chironomidae in the genus (Parachironomus). These predators are so effective that in some years up to 90% of eggs may be killed before they hatch.

Spotted salamander larvae are also in danger. They are eaten by fish, frogs, and also aquatic insects.

Adult spotted salamanders are preyed upon by larger animals, including Mephitis mephitis, Procyon lotor, turtles, and snakes, especially garter snakes (genus Thamnophis). Like many other salamanders, adult spotted salamanders have special glands on their back and tail that produce a bad-tasting poison. The bright spotting on these salamanders is a warning to predators of their bad taste and poisonous protection.

Adult spotted salamanders respond to attack by arching the body and sometimes butting with the head or lashing with the tail, probably to expose the predator to as much poison as possible. They sometimes bite, and individuals of all sizes may also make sounds when attacked.

Known Predators:

  • Procyon lotor
  • Testudines
  • Serpentes
  • Centrarchidae
  • Aves
  • Rana
  • Notophthalmus
  • a caddisfly (Ptilostomis_postica)
  • a caddisfly (Banksiola_dossuaria)
  • midges in the genus (Parachironomus)

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic

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Ecosystem Roles

Spotted salamanders can be important to the community of species that live and breed in vernal pools, affecting the abundance and diversity of other species in the pools, especially other amphibians. Gray treefrogs (Hyla chrysoscelis and Hyla versicolor) avoid breeding in ponds with spotted salamanders in them, and depending on the timing and size of the other species present, spotted salamanders may reduce the population of other Ambystoma species in their pools.

Mutualist Species:

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Predation

Spotted salamander defense begins immediately following laying of eggs. The eggs are laid in masses that are covered in a thick, firm, jelly, overcoat to protect against some predators (e.g. leeches and sunfish) and from dehydration, should the egg mass be temporarily exposed by sinking water levels. There is a particular species of unicellular green alga (Oophila ambystomatis) that grows on and in the jelly. The algae provides extra oxygen to the developing embryos, and may help camouflage the egg mass as well.

Despite this protection, a number of predators eat spotted salamander eggs: adult newts, wood frog tadpoles, crayfish and some species of caddisfly (especially Ptilostomis postica and Banksiola dossuaria) and midges in the genus (Parachironomus). These predators are so effective that in some years up to 90% of eggs may be killed before they hatch.

Spotted salamander larvae are also heavily preyed upon. Hatchlings are eaten by those aquatic creatures previously mentioned and also various aquatic insects, fish, wading birds, other Ambystoma species, and snakes. Hatchlings raised in laboratories often die from protozoan infections as well.

Adult spotted salamanders are preyed upon by larger animals, including skunks, raccoons, turtles, and snakes, especially garter snakes (genus Thamnophis). Like many other salamanders, adult spotted salamanders secrete a milky toxin from glands on the back and tail for defense against predation. The bright spotting on these salamanders functions as a warning to predators of their toxic defense.

Adult spotted salamanders respond to attack by arching the body and sometimes butting with the head or lashing with the tail, probably to expose the predator to as much poison as possible. They sometimes bite, and individuals of all sizes may also make sounds when attacked.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic

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Known prey organisms

Ambystoma maculatum (Ambystoma laterale, A. maculatum A. tremblayi) preys on:
Daphnia pulex
Gastropoda
Bivalvia
Acilius
Chaoborus

Based on studies in:
USA: Michigan (Lake or pond)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • H. M. Wilbur, Competition, predation, and the structure of the Ambystoma-Rana sylvatica community, Ecology 53:3-21, from p. 14 (1972).
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Known predators

Ambystoma maculatum (Ambystoma laterale, A. maculatum A. tremblayi) is prey of:
Ambystoma tigrinum
Batracobdella picta

Based on studies in:
USA: Michigan (Lake or pond)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • H. M. Wilbur, Competition, predation, and the structure of the Ambystoma-Rana sylvatica community, Ecology 53:3-21, from p. 14 (1972).
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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: > 300

Comments: Throughout the range, occurrences are many and/or large.

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Global Abundance

100,000 to >1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but surely is greater than 100,000 and may exceed 1,000,000.

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General Ecology

Larvae may be preyed on by larval A. opacum where the two occur together. Predation on larvae by fishes may prohibit successful reproduction (Ireland 1989). In a Massachusetts pond, survival to metamorphosis was 3.1% for 10,000+ embryos in a year when pond did not dry; up to 13% survival recorded in other studies (see States et al. 1988). In West Virginia, larvae of the caddisfly Banksiola dossuaria preyed on embryos (Stout et al. 1992). In Pennsylvania, larvae of the caddisfly Ptilostomis postica sometimes preyed heavily on embryos (Rowe et al. 1994).

See Semlitsch (1988) for information on factors affecting ecological distribution in southeastern U.S.

The egg masses of spotted salamanders sometimes contain green algae that use the carbon dioxide produced by the embryos and in turn produce oxygen that the salamander embryos can use.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

These salamanders locate prey by smell and sight. Their vision is probably best for detecting motion in low light. Sense of smell is important in orienting spotted salamanders to their burrows and to their home pond, as are visual and tactile information. It is believed that home pond odors are preferred compared with foreign pond odors.

During courtship, males nudge and rub females, probably communicating with both touch and smell. Females are attracted by the chemical scents given off by males in the water.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Communication and Perception

These salamanders locate prey by smell and sight. Their vision is probably best for detecting motion in low light. Sense of smell is important in orienting spotted salamanders to their burrows and to their home pond, as are visual and tactile information. It is believed that home pond odors are preferred compared with foreign pond odors.

During courtship, males nudge and rub females, probably communicating with both touch and smell. Females are attracted by the chemical scents given off by males in the water.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Cyclicity

Comments: Adults most active during rains at night during breeding period.

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Life Cycle

Development

Spotted salamanders go through several stages over their lifetime. Female salamanders lay their eggs under water, and the larvae that hatch from the eggs are aquatic, with gills for taking oxygen from the water, weak legs and a broad tail for swimming. Larvae feed and grow in the water, and then metamorphose into an juvenile form with lungs and strong legs. Juveniles live on land, and after 2-3 years they mature into adults that can reproduce.

This species has relatively long incubation time in comparison to other salamanders. It takes 4-7 weeks for the eggs to hatch, depending both the temperature of the water they are in, and whether the eggs are laid in shady or sunny areas.

Spotted salamander larvae are 12-13 mm long when they hatch, with feathery gills and only their front legs present

Larvae grow quickly and transform within 2 to 4 months after hatching. Average size after metamorphosis ranges between 27 and 60 mm, depending on the conditions in the pond. The yellow and orange spots are usually acquired within a week following transformation.

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

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Development

Spotted salamanders go through several stages over their lifetime. Female salamanders lay their eggs under water, and the larvae that hatch from the eggs are aquatic, with gills for taking oxygen from the water, weak legs and a broad tail for swimming. Larvae feed and grow in the water, and then metamorphose into an juvenile form with lungs and strong legs. Juveniles live on land, and after 2-3 years they mature into adults that can reproduce.

This species has relatively long incubation time in comparison to other salamanders. It takes 4-7 weeks for the eggs to hatch, depending both the temperature of the water they are in, and whether the eggs are laid in shady or sunny areas.

Spotted salamander larvae are 12-13 mm long when they hatch, with feathery gills and only their front legs present

Larvae grow quickly and transform within 2 to 4 months after hatching. Average size after metamorphosis ranges between 27 and 60 mm, depending on the conditions in the pond. The yellow and orange spots are usually acquired within a week following transformation.

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Most spotted salamanders (more than 90%) die before they transform and leave their pond, either because their pond dries up, or they are killed by predators or disease. If they do survive and make it out of the pond, they typically live about 20 years in the wild, though some have been reported as old as 30. Their chance of survival from one year to the next is much much higher after they transform.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
30 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
20 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
25.0 years.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Most spotted salamanders (more than 90%) die before they transform and leave their pond, either because their pond dries up, or they are killed by predators or disease. If they do survive and make it out of the pond, they typically live about 20 years in the wild, though some have been reported as old as 30. Their chance of survival from one year to the next is much much higher after they transform.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
30 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
20 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
25.0 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 32 years
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Reproduction

Rain and warming temperatures stimulate migrations to breeding ponds in winter or early spring (Grace and Church 2003). Migrations to breeding sites occur in March-April in the northern part of the range, mainly December-February in the south. In eastern Missouri, migration to ponds occurred after the first week of February on all days when mean 3-day temperature was at least 5.5 C and precipitation at least 4 mm (Sexton et al. 1990). After arriving in the breeding pools, females pick up sperm from the spermatophores that males deposit on the pool bottom. Soon thereafter females attach masses of eggs to submerged stems or other submerged objects. Individual females deposit up to 250 eggs (average <100); eggs of an individual females may be laid in one large mass or divided among several masses of about 50-90 eggs. Hundreds of females may deposit eggs in a single pool, and the egg masses of different females often exhibit an aggregated dispersion pattern. Larvae hatch in 1-2 months.In a pond in Ohio, hatching rate over 4 years was 60-72%, and the number of larvae that hatched ranged from 232,000 to 527,000 (Brodman, 1995, J. Herpetol. 29:111-113). Larvae metamorphose in 2-4 months or sometimes overwinter in the pond. In eastern Missouri, metamorphosis occurred mainly by October in some years, in spring after overwintering in other years (Phillips 1992). In Massachusetts, mean time from hatching to exit from pond was 98 days (States et al. 1988). Newly metamorphosed individuals live on land for a few years before returning to water to breed (usually in their natal pool).

In Quebec, most individuals caught in temporary ponds in spring were between 2 and 18 years old; most females were mature by the age 7 years at SVL greater than 78 mm whereas many males reached maturity between the ages of 2 and 6 years at SVL greater than 63 mm (Flageole and Leclair 1992).

Many individuals usually breed in a single pool (e.g., in eastern Massachusetts, 196 males and 132 females entered a pond with a surface area of about 30 square meters; 118 egg masses were found (States et al. 1988). Harris (Copeia 1980:719-722) found 237 egg masses in one pond.

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Spotted salamanders begin migration to breeding ponds at night, during the first rain following the thaw of snow. Males respond more quickly to the rain and move faster than do the females, therefore they arrive to the pool first. They also stay longer in the ponds than females do, probably to increase their chances of fertilizing more eggs each year. The number of males present in the breeding pools is greater than the number of females, so when the females arrive the males swim about vigorously, rubbing and nosing each other. Males produced blobs of sperm called spermatophores (up to 80 per male), and the females take these spermatophores into their bodies to fertilize their eggs. Each male may fertilize several females, and each female may take up spermatophores from several males.

Male spotted salamanders may compete with other males for the chance to fertilize females. They push other males away from females, produce as many spermatophores as they can, and sometimes cover other males' spermatophores with their own.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

It takes several years for spotted salamanders to become reproductively mature, and the time required is strongly affected by the climate where they live. In the warmer parts of their range they may be ready to breed in 2-3 years, but further north they males may take 5 or 6 years and females as many as seven years.

Females lay compact egg masses that are attached to submerged objects. The egg mass is covered with thick, clear or milky-white jelly. Each female lays approximately 100-300 or more eggs per year, in several separate masses. Reported averages are about 200 eggs per female per year.

See the "How do they behave?" section for more information about what spotted salamanders do to reproduce.

Breeding interval: Spotted salamanders breed once yearly

Breeding season: Eggs are laid in winter or early spring, starting in late December in the southern portion of the species' range, and as late as early May in Nova Scotia

Range number of offspring: 100 to 370.

Average number of offspring: 200.

Range time to hatching: 4 to 7 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 7 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 6 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

Male spotted salamanders don't take care for their offspring. Females put energy and nutrients into their eggs to feed the embryos before the hatch, and when they lay the eggs, they cover them with protective jelly. They also are careful to choose the right place to lay their eggs. After they lay their eggs, they leave the pond and don't provide any more care for their offspring.

Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning)

  • Petranka, J. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
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Spotted salamanders begin migration to breeding ponds at night, during the first rain following the thaw of snow. Males respond more quickly to the rain and move faster than do the females, therefore they arrive to the pool first. They also stay longer in the ponds than females do, probably to increase their chances of fertilizing more eggs each year. The number of males present in the breeding pools is greater than the number of females, so when the females arrive the males swim about vigorously, rubbing and nosing each other. Males produced blobs of sperm called spermatophores (up to 80 per male), and the females take these spermatophores into their bodies to fertilize their eggs. Each male may fertilize several females, and each female may take up spermatophores from several males.

Male spotted salamanders may compete with other males for the chance to fertilize females. They push other males away from females, produce as many spermatophores as they can, and sometimes cover other males' spermatophores with their own.

Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)

It takes several years for spotted salamanders to become reproductively mature, and the time required is strongly affected by the climate where they live. In the warmer parts of their range they may be ready to breed in 2-3 years, but further north they males may take 5 or 6 years and females as many as seven years.

See the Behavior section for more details on breeding behavior.

Females lay compact egg masses that are attached to submerged objects. The egg mass is covered with thick, clear or milky-white jelly. Each female lays approximately 100-300 or more eggs per year, in several separate masses. Reported averages are about 200 eggs per female per year.

Breeding interval: Spotted salamanders breed once yearly

Breeding season: Eggs are laid in winter or early spring, starting in late December in the southern portion of the species' range, and as late as early May in Nova Scotia

Range number of offspring: 100 to 370.

Average number of offspring: 200.

Range time to hatching: 4 to 7 weeks.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 7 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 2 to 6 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

Male spotted salamanders provide no parental care. Females invest nutrients in provisioning their eggs with yolk and supplying them with protective layer of jelly. They also make an effort to lay the eggs in a suitable location, usually on submerged tree branches or aquatic plants. There is no further investment after the eggs are laid.

Parental Investment: pre-fertilization (Provisioning)

  • Petranka, J. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Symbiotic algae provide photosynthetic products: spotted salamander
 

Algae encapsulated in cells of spotted salamander may provide photosynthetic products (oxygen and carbohydrate) by internal symbiosis.

         
  "[T]he single-celled alga Oophila amblystomatis...has long been understood to enjoy a symbiotic relationship with  the spotted salamander, which lays its eggs in bodies of water. However,  the symbiosis was thought to occur between the salamander embryo and  algae living outside it — with the embryo producing nitrogen-rich waste  that is useful to algae, and the algae increasing the oxygen content of  the water in the immediate vicinity of the respiring embryos. 

"At a presentation on 28 July at the Ninth International Congress of  Vertebrate Morphology in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Ryan Kerney of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, reported that  these algae are, in fact, commonly located inside cells all over the  spotted salamander's body. Moreover, there are signs that intracellular  algae may be directly providing the products of photosynthesis — oxygen  and carbohydrate — to the salamander cells that encapsulate them ... Because vertebrate cells have what is known as an adaptive immune system  — which destroys biological material not considered 'self' — it was  thought to be impossible for a symbiont to live stably inside them. But,  in this case, the salamander cells have either turned their internal  immune system off, or the algae have somehow bypassed it." (Petherick 2010:1)


  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Petherick A. 2010. A solar salamander: photosynthetic algae have been found inside the cells of a vertebrate for the first time. Nature.
    http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100730/full/news.2010.384.html.
  • Kerney R; Kim E; Hangarter RP; Heiss AA; Bishop CD; Hall BK. 2011. Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host. PNAS. 108(16): 6497–6502.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Ambystoma maculatum

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 12
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements common.

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2004

Assessor/s
Geoffrey Hammerson

Reviewer/s
Global Amphibian Assessment Coordinating Team (Simon Stuart, Janice Chanson, Neil Cox and Bruce Young)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern in view of its wide distribution, presumed large population, and because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category.
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The spotted salamander is still a fairly common species, but its populations are particular vulnerable because of their dependence on vernal pools for breeding. Acidic precipitation has a negative effect upon their embryos, and habitat destruction is a problem, especially as it isolates populations from each other. The species is rated "of Least Concern" by the IUCN, and is not listed by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, in the CITES appendices, or by the State of Michigan.

The spotted salamander is still a fairly common species, and it is not considered endangered. However, the species depends on vernal pools to survive and reproduce, and this habitat is threatened by acid rain and deforestation. The species is rated "of Least Concern" by the IUCN, and is not listed by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, in the CITES appendices, or by the State of Michigan.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

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The spotted salamander is still a fairly common species, but its populations are particular vulnerable because of their dependence on vernal pools for breeding. Acidic precipitation has a negative effect upon their embryos, and habitat destruction is a problem, especially as it isolates populations from each other. The species is rated "of Least Concern" by the IUCN, and is not listed by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, in the CITES appendices, or by the State of Michigan.

The spotted salamander is still a fairly common species, and it is not considered endangered. However, the species depends on vernal pools to survive and reproduce, and this habitat is threatened by acid rain and deforestation. The species is rated "of Least Concern" by the IUCN, and is not listed by the U.S. Endangered Species Act, in the CITES appendices, or by the State of Michigan.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 30%

Comments: Populations declined in eastern Virginia during the 1980s (Blem and Blem 1991).

Global Long Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 50%

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Population

Population
Total adult population size is unknown but surely is greater than 100,000 and might exceed 1,000,000. Overall, its populations are stable, though there are some local declines due to habitat loss.

Population Trend
Stable
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Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

The spotted salamander generally breeds only in ephemeral pools that are fish-free. Occasionally they will use permanent ponds despite the reduced hatching success due to the presence of fish. Adults migrate to breeding ponds during late winter to early spring, typically during rainy evenings. They exhibit strong homing behavior by remaining philopatric to their breeding sites (Whitford and Vinegar 1966), often even entering and exiting the pond repeatedly at similar locations. Homing behavior is so strong that when captured individuals were released into foreign breeding habitat, they bypassed this habitat and returned to their home breeding ponds (Shoop 1968).

Breeding typically takes place en masse, where males are often known to congregate earlier at the breeding pond. The sex ratio at the breeding pond is often skewed in favor of males by 1.5-3.5 times more. Husting (1965) had shown a ratio of 4.43 males per female after a 4-year study. Beginning breeding times vary geographically, though generally in the southern portion of the range breeding begins as early as December, and in the more northern portions of the range March-April. Length of the breeding season varies significantly with location and may range from 3 days to over two months. Typically, the more northern populations have two or three highly synchronized breeding bouts, often only lasting 2-3 days (Petranka 1998).

A fairly elaborate courtship may take place at breeding in which the male contacts a female and engages in a nudging ritual. After the male repeatedly encircles the female, he deposits spermatophores on the substrate for the female to pick up with her cloaca. Males will often deposit their spermatophores on top of other males' spermatophores if encountered during the courtship. The female deposits the egg masses within 2-3 days after fertilization, attaching them to submerged vegetation. The embryonic period typically lasts between 4-7 weeks, and larvae metamorphose after 2-4 months. In some cases slow growing larvae may not transform until the following spring or summer, overwintering in the pond. Within a few weeks after metamorphosis, the newly transformed salamanders disperse into the surrounding upland habitat during moist weather. It is not clear how long the juvenile stage lasts, though time to reproductive maturity is believed to be 2-3 years (slightly longer for females), at which time individuals return to the pool to breed (Petranka 1998).

Despite the relative isolation of suitable breeding sites and the high tendency towards site fidelity, migration between ponds does occur. Zamudio and Wieczorek (2007) found that immigration between ponds was common within demes in their Tompkins County, New York study populations. Their data suggested that A. maculatum breeding groups were behaving as metapopulations, such that population clusters were the functional units but with sufficient migration between demes to enable potential rescue and recolonization. High gene flow was also found between A. maculatum breeding ponds in northeastern Ohio, despite landscape fragmentation (Purrenhage et al. 2009).

Spotted salamander egg masses are preyed on by wood frog tadpoles (Rana sylvatica) as the embryos near the end of development; in turn, the frog tadpoles are preyed on by larval salamanders (Petranka et al. 1998).

This salamander is the first vertebrate reported to have photosynthetic symbionts within its cells and tissues, the single-celled alga Oophila amblystomatis. Previously it had been thought that the algae were external to the salamander embryos, but recent work by Ryan Kerney of the University of Dalhousie shows that the algae are actually within the embryonic cells. The symbiosis does not last through development; algal cells are detectable up through larval stage 44, and fewer algal cells are present in later stage larvae (Kerney et al. 2011). Transmission may take place in the salamander oviduct (Kerney et al. 2011). For a commentary on the initial report of this work at the July 2010 Ninth Internal Congress of Vertebrate Morphology (held in Uruguay) and a photo of the algae-harboring embryos, see Petherick (2010) in Nature News.

  • Petranka, J. W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London.
  • Berrill, M., Bertram, S., Wilson, A., Louis, S., Brigham, D., Stromberg, C. (1993). ''Lethal and sublethal impacts of pyrethroid insecticides on amphibian embryos and tadpoles.'' Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 12, 525-539.
  • Blem, C. R. and Blem, L. B. (1989). ''Tolerance of acidity in a Virginia population of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, (Amphibia: Ambystomatidae).'' Brimleyana, 17, 37-45.
  • Boone, M. D., and James, S. M. (2003). ''Interactions of an insecticide, herbicide, and natural stressors in amphibian community mesocosms.'' Ecological Applications, 13, 829-841.
  • Cook, R. P. (1983). ''Effects of acid precipitation on embryonic mortality of Ambystoma salamanders in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts.'' Biological Conservation, 27, 77-88.
  • Husting, E.L. (1965). ''Survival and breeding structure in a population of Ambystoma maculatum.'' Copeia, 1965(3), 352-362.
  • Kerney, R., Kim, E., Hangarter, R. P., Heiss, A. A., Bishop, C. D., and Hall, B. K. (2011). ''Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host.'' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published online before print, April 4, 2011( doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018259108 ).
  • Ouellet, M., Mikaelian, I., Paul, B. D., Rodrigue, J., and Green, D. M. (2005). ''Historical evidence of widespread chytrid infection in North American amphibian populations.'' Conservation Biology, 19, 1431-1440.
  • Petherick, A. (2010). ''A solar salamander.'' Nature News, doi:10.1038/news.2010.384.
  • Petranka, J. W., Rushlow, A. W., and Hopey, M. E. (1998). ''Predation by tadpoles of Rana sylvatica on embryos of Ambystoma maculatum: implications of ecological role reversals by Rana (predator) and Ambystoma (prey).'' Herpetologica, 54, 1-13.
  • Phillips, C.A. (1994). ''Geographic distribution of mtDNA variants and the historical biogeography of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum.'' Evolution, 48, 597-607.
  • Purrenhage, J. L., Niewiaroski, P. H., and Moore, F. B.-G. (2009). ''Population structure of spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) in a fragmented landscape.'' Molecular Ecology, 18, 235-247.
  • Sadinski, W. J. and Dunson, W. A. (1992). ''A multilevel study of effects of low pH on amphibians of temporary ponds.'' Journal of Herpetology, 26, 413-422.
  • Shoop, C.R. (1994). ''Migratory orientation of Ambystoma maculatum: movements near breeding ponds and displacements of migrating individuals.'' The Biological Bulletin, 135, 230-238.
  • Whitford, W. G., and Vinegar, A. (1966). ''Homing, survivorship, and overwintering larvae in Spotted Salamanders, Ambystoma maculatum.'' Copeia, 1966, 515-519.
  • Zamudio, K. R., and Wieczorek, A. M. (2007). ''Fine-scale spatial genetic structure and dispersal among spotted salamander ( Ambystoma maculatum ) breeding populations.'' Molecular Ecology, 16, 257-274.
  • deMaynadier, P. G. and Hunter, M. L. Jr. (1998). ''Effects of silvicultural edges on the distribution and abundance of amphibians in Maine.'' Conservation Biology, 12, 340-352.
  • deMaynadier, P. G. and Hunter, M. L. Jr. (1999). ''Forest canopy closure and juvenile emigration by pool-breeding amphibians in Maine.'' Journal of Wildlife Management, 63, 441-450.
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Threats

Degree of Threat: Unknown

Comments: Threats to local populations include intensive timber harvesting practices that reduce canopy closure, understory vegetation, uncompacted forest litter, or coarse woody debris (moderately to well-decayed) in areas surrounding breeding sites (deMaynadier and Hunter 1999). Dispersing juveniles tend to avoid open canopy habitat, so deforestation and fragmentation likely reduce dispersal rates between local populations and could negatively impact population persistence in altered landscapes (Rothermal and Semlitsch 2002). Negative impacts of intensive timber harvesting extend at least 25-35 m into uncut forest (deMaynadier and Hunter 1998).
Many populations are becoming increasing isolated as deforestation and loss of vernal pools reduce gene flow among demes (Petranka 1998). This may result in inbreeding depression and reduce the probability of reestablishment of extirpated populations.
Local populations may be heavily impacted by excessive mortality of adults caused by vehicles on roads near breeding sites. Roads negatively impact salamander abundance in roadside habitat and may serve as partial barriers to movement (deMaynadier and Hunter 2000).
Embryo mortality generally decreases as pH deceases below 6.0, though in some areas successful reproduction has occurred at a relatively low pH (Cook 1983, Blem and Blem 1989). In central Pennsylvania, low pH was associated with deleterious sublethal effects on larvae (Sadinski and Dunson 1992).
High concentrations of various chemical elements, unfavorable temperatures, or low oxygen content may result in reproductive failure; see Blem and Blem (1991) and Albers and Prouty (1987). Deicing salts that contaminate roadside vernal pools result in reduced embryonic survival (Turtle 2000).

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Major Threats
Threats to local populations include intensive timber harvesting practices that reduce canopy closure, understorey vegetation, uncompacted forest litter, or coarse woody debris (moderately to well-decayed) in areas surrounding breeding sites (deMaynadier and Hunter 1999). Negative impacts of intensive timber harvesting extend at least 25-35m into uncut forest (deMaynadier and Hunter 1998). Many populations are becoming increasing isolated as deforestation and loss of vernal pools reduce gene flow among demes (Petranka 1998). This might result in inbreeding depression and reduce the probability of re-establishment of extirpated populations. Local populations might be heavily impacted by excessive mortality of adults caused by vehicles on roads near breeding sites. Roads negatively impact salamander abundance in roadside habitat and might serve as partial barriers to movement (deMaynadier and Hunter 2000). Embryo mortality generally decreases as pH deceases below 6.0, though in some areas successful reproduction has occurred at a relatively low pH (Cook 1983, Blem and Blem 1989). In central Pennsylvania, low pH was associated with deleterious sub lethal effects on larvae (Sadinski and Dunson 1992). High concentrations of various chemical elements, unfavourable temperatures, or low oxygen content might result in reproductive failure; see Blem and Blem (1991) and Albers and Prouty (1987). De-icing salts that contaminate roadside vernal pools result in reduced embryonic survival (Turtle 2000).
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Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors

Since the spotted salamander relies upon woodland vernal pools for breeding sites, protection of the surrounding upland habitat is important for them to complete their life history. The rapid spread of suburban development and other degradative anthropogenic practices is resulting in rapid habitat fragmentation for this and other species of Ambystoma. This increased habitat fragmentation leads to increased isolation of local subpopulations and thus decreases recruitment ability and gene flow among populations. These smaller isolated populations may become subject to various levels of inbreeding depression, and colonists (often juveniles) may not be able to reach nearby ponds to rescue local populations that may have suffered extinction. Thus, it is crucial to maintain connectivity in the landscape in order to protect this species and other species of pool-breeding amphibians.

Timber harvesting significantly changes the habitat by reducing forest floor litter (decayed woody debris), understory vegetation, and canopy closure in areas surrounding breeding sites (deMaynadier and Hunter 1999). These changes affect not only the immediately impacted forest area but also affect whether habitat is suitable for salamanders in surrounding uncut forest, at least 25-35 m in (deMaynadier and Hunter 1998).

If roads run near breeding sites, salamanders may be crushed by cars. Roads may also serve as a partial barrier to movement, further fragmenting the habitat (deMaynadier and Hunter 2000).

In addition to habitat loss and fragmentation this species (especially at the larval stage) may be sensitive to decreased pH levels in breeding pools due to increased acid deposition from weather patterns or road salting (Turtle 2000; Sadinski and Dunson 1992). Low pH (<6.0) has a deleterious effect on embryo survival, although reproduction can occur in ponds with low pH (Cook 1983; Blem and Blem 1989).

Pesticide contamination of water can significantly impact A. maculatum. Low-level contamination of ponds with pyrethroid insecticides (permethrin and fenvalerate, administered at .01 to 2 ppm, singly or in combination, for 22 or 96 hours) did not kill spotted salamander larvae but was found to affect behavior. Larvae that were prodded responded abnormally by twisting rather than swimming away, suggesting that a single episode of pesticide exposure was enough to render them more vulnerable to predation. Of the five amphibian species tested (four anurans plus A. maculatum), A. maculatum was most susceptible to pesticide effects (Berrill et al. 1993). Mesocosms treated with the insecticide carbaryl (at 3.5 or 7.0 mg/ml) had high mortality of spotted salamander embryos (Boone and James 2003).

It is not known whether chytrid infection leads to mortality in this species, but it can be infected with chytrid; Ouellet et al. (2005) found evidence of Bd infection in 4 of 139 Canadian specimens.

  • Petranka, J. W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London.
  • Berrill, M., Bertram, S., Wilson, A., Louis, S., Brigham, D., Stromberg, C. (1993). ''Lethal and sublethal impacts of pyrethroid insecticides on amphibian embryos and tadpoles.'' Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 12, 525-539.
  • Blem, C. R. and Blem, L. B. (1989). ''Tolerance of acidity in a Virginia population of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum, (Amphibia: Ambystomatidae).'' Brimleyana, 17, 37-45.
  • Boone, M. D., and James, S. M. (2003). ''Interactions of an insecticide, herbicide, and natural stressors in amphibian community mesocosms.'' Ecological Applications, 13, 829-841.
  • Cook, R. P. (1983). ''Effects of acid precipitation on embryonic mortality of Ambystoma salamanders in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts.'' Biological Conservation, 27, 77-88.
  • Husting, E.L. (1965). ''Survival and breeding structure in a population of Ambystoma maculatum.'' Copeia, 1965(3), 352-362.
  • Kerney, R., Kim, E., Hangarter, R. P., Heiss, A. A., Bishop, C. D., and Hall, B. K. (2011). ''Intracellular invasion of green algae in a salamander host.'' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published online before print, April 4, 2011( doi: 10.1073/pnas.1018259108 ).
  • Ouellet, M., Mikaelian, I., Paul, B. D., Rodrigue, J., and Green, D. M. (2005). ''Historical evidence of widespread chytrid infection in North American amphibian populations.'' Conservation Biology, 19, 1431-1440.
  • Petherick, A. (2010). ''A solar salamander.'' Nature News, doi:10.1038/news.2010.384.
  • Petranka, J. W., Rushlow, A. W., and Hopey, M. E. (1998). ''Predation by tadpoles of Rana sylvatica on embryos of Ambystoma maculatum: implications of ecological role reversals by Rana (predator) and Ambystoma (prey).'' Herpetologica, 54, 1-13.
  • Phillips, C.A. (1994). ''Geographic distribution of mtDNA variants and the historical biogeography of the spotted salamander, Ambystoma maculatum.'' Evolution, 48, 597-607.
  • Purrenhage, J. L., Niewiaroski, P. H., and Moore, F. B.-G. (2009). ''Population structure of spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) in a fragmented landscape.'' Molecular Ecology, 18, 235-247.
  • Sadinski, W. J. and Dunson, W. A. (1992). ''A multilevel study of effects of low pH on amphibians of temporary ponds.'' Journal of Herpetology, 26, 413-422.
  • Shoop, C.R. (1994). ''Migratory orientation of Ambystoma maculatum: movements near breeding ponds and displacements of migrating individuals.'' The Biological Bulletin, 135, 230-238.
  • Whitford, W. G., and Vinegar, A. (1966). ''Homing, survivorship, and overwintering larvae in Spotted Salamanders, Ambystoma maculatum.'' Copeia, 1966, 515-519.
  • Zamudio, K. R., and Wieczorek, A. M. (2007). ''Fine-scale spatial genetic structure and dispersal among spotted salamander ( Ambystoma maculatum ) breeding populations.'' Molecular Ecology, 16, 257-274.
  • deMaynadier, P. G. and Hunter, M. L. Jr. (1998). ''Effects of silvicultural edges on the distribution and abundance of amphibians in Maine.'' Conservation Biology, 12, 340-352.
  • deMaynadier, P. G. and Hunter, M. L. Jr. (1999). ''Forest canopy closure and juvenile emigration by pool-breeding amphibians in Maine.'' Journal of Wildlife Management, 63, 441-450.
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Management

Management Requirements: Needed conservation measures include protection of vernal pools and adjacent wooded areas up to at least 200-250 m from the pools. Also, regulatory agencies should attempt to minimize forest fragmentation. The species could benefit from regulations that minimize acid deposition.

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Global Protection: Very many (>40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

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Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Needed conservation measures include protection of vernal pools and adjacent wooded areas up to at least 200-250m asl from the pools. Also, regulatory agencies should attempt to minimize forest fragmentation. The species could benefit from regulations that minimize acid deposition.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Ambystoma_maculatum on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Spotted salamanders may help control insect pest species, including mosquitoes that breed in their ponds.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Ambystoma maculatum on humans.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Spotted salamanders may help control insect pest species, including mosquitoes that breed in their ponds.

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Wikipedia

Spotted salamander

The spotted salamander or yellow-spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) is a mole salamander common in the eastern United States and Canada. The spotted salamander is the state amphibian of South Carolina. This salamander ranges from Nova Scotia, to Lake Superior, to southern Georgia and Texas.[2] Its embryos have been found to have symbiotic algae living inside them.[3]

Description[edit]

SpottedSalamander.jpg

The spotted salamander is about 15–25 cm (5.9–9.8 in) long.[4] They are stout, like most mole salamanders, and have wide snouts.[2] The spotted salamander's main color is black, but can sometimes be a blueish-black, dark grey, dark green, or even dark brown. Two uneven rows of yellowish-orange spots run from the top of the head (near the eyes) to the tip of the tail. Interestingly, the spotted salamander's spots near the top of its head are more orange, while the spots on the rest of its body are more yellow. The underside of the spotted salamander is slate gray and pink.

Behavior[edit]

The spotted salamander usually makes its home in hardwood forest areas with vernal pools, which are necessary for breeding. They cannot breed in most permanent pools because the fish inhabiting the pools would eat the salamander eggs and larvae. Spotted salamanders are fossorial, meaning they spend most of their time underground. They rarely come above ground, except after a rain or for foraging and breeding. During the winter, they hibernate underground, and are not seen again until breeding season in early March–May.

Ambystoma maculatum has several methods of defense, including hiding in burrows or leaf litter, autotomy of the tail, and a toxic milky liquid it excretes when perturbed. This secretion comes from large poison glands around the back and neck. If a predator of the spotted salamander manages to dismember a part of a leg, tail, or even parts of the brain/head, then it can grow back a new one, although this takes a massive amount of energy. The spotted salamander, like other salamanders, shows great regenerative abilities, even being able to regenerate limbs and parts of organs.[5] As juveniles, they spend most of their time under the leaf litter near the bottom of the pools where their eggs were laid. The larvae tend to occupy refuges in vegetation, and lower their activity in the presence of predators.[6]

Lifecycle[edit]

An egg mass with algae visible inside the eggs

During the majority of the year, spotted salamanders live in the shelter of leaves or burrows in deciduous forests. However, when the temperature rises and the moisture level is high, the salamanders make their abrupt migration towards their annual breeding ponds. In just one night, hundreds to thousands of salamanders may make the trip to their ponds for mating. Mates usually breed in ponds when it is raining in the spring. Females usually lay about 100 eggs that cling to the underwater plants. The eggs are round, clear, jelly-like clumps that are usually 6.4–10.2 cm (2.5–4 in) long. Adults only stay in the water for a few days, then the eggs hatch in one to two months. Eggs of A. maculatum can have a symbiotic relationship with a green alga, Oophila amblystomatis.[7] Jelly coating prevents the eggs from drying out, but it inhibits oxygen diffusion (required for embryo development). The Oophila alga photosynthesizes and produces oxygen in the jelly. The developing salamander thus metabolizes the oxygen, producing carbon dioxide (which then the alga consumes). Photosynthetic algae are present within the somatic and possibly the germ cells of the salamander.[3] When the eggs hatch depends on the water temperatures. As larvae, they are usually light brown or greenish-yellow. They have small dark spots and are born with external gills. In two to four months, the larvae lose their gills, and become juvenile salamanders that leave the water. Spotted salamanders have been known to live up to 32 years,[8] and normally return to the same vernal pool every year. These pools are seasonal and will usually dry up during the late spring and stay dry until winter.

Diet[edit]

The spotted salamander's diet includes crickets, worms, insects, spiders, slugs, centipedes, and millipedes. They are nocturnal and come out at night to hunt for food.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hammerson, G. 2004. Ambystoma maculatum. In: IUCN 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. Downloaded on 02 June 2013.
  2. ^ a b "ADW: Ambystoma maculatum.". Animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  3. ^ a b Anna Petherick. "A solar salamander: Nature News". Nature.com. doi:10.1038/news.2010.384. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  4. ^ Petranka, J.W. (1998). Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press. 
  5. ^ Carlsson, Lars (2010-08-06). "CellNEWS: Salamander Regeneration Trick Replicated in Mouse Muscle Cells". Cellnews-blog.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  6. ^ Brodman, R.; Jaskula, J. (2002). "Activity and Microhabitat Use During Interactions Among Five Species of Pond-Breeding Salamander Larvae". Herpetologica 58 (3): 346. doi:10.1655/0018-0831(2002)058[0346:AAMUDI]2.0.CO;2.  edit
  7. ^ Victor H. Hutchison and Carl S. Hammen (1958). "Oxygen Utilization in the Symbiosis of Embryos of the Salamander, Ambystoma maculatum and the Alga, Oophila amblystomatis". Biological Bulletin 115: 483–489. doi:10.2307/1539111. Retrieved 2012-08-15. 
  8. ^ Flageole, S.; Leclair Jr, R. (1992). "Étude démographique d'une population de salamandres (Ambystoma maculatum) à l'aide de la méthode squeletto-chronologique". Canadian Journal of Zoology 70 (4): 740–749. doi:10.1139/z92-108.  edit
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: "Despite apparent morphological uniformity, genetic discontinuities throughout the range of this species suggest that populations were historically fragmented in at least two refugia in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The ranges of these two highly divergent clades ["coastal" and "interior"] expanded northward, resulting in two widely distributed lineages that are sympatric in regions previously proposed as suture zones for other taxa." (Zamudio and Savage 2003).

See Kraus (1988), Shaffer et al. (1991), and Jones et al. (1993) for phylogenetic analyses of North American Ambystoma.

Allozyme data indicate that the closest relative of A. maculatum is A. gracile (Shaffer et al. 1991), a conclusion that is not supported by any morphological data (Kraus 1988).

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