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Spotted Salamander

Ambystoma maculatum

Spotted salamanders can be found in swamps and deciduous bottomland forests. (Dave Huth/Flickr)
Spotted salamanders can be found in swamps and deciduous bottomland forests. (Dave Huth/Flickr)

These grey, black or bluish salamanders can reach nine inches in length and have two rows of bright yellow or orange spots lining their backs. They spend most of their lives sheltered under leaf litter, logs and rocks. 

Appearance:

  • Adults range from 6 to 9 inches in length
  • Females grow larger than males
  • Stout bodies and rounded snout
  • Large, strong legs with four to five toes  
  • Two rows of yellow or orange spots along back contrast with dark grey, black or blue base color

Habitat:

  • Abundant in swamps and deciduous bottomland forests  
  • Spend most of their time hidden under leaf litter, logs and rocks 

Range:

  • Found in eastern North America
  • Range extends from Nova Scotia to southern Georgia and eastern Texas 
  • In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, spotted salamanders are absent from the Delmarva Peninsula  

Feeding:

  • Larvae are aggressive predators that will eat any small animal they can catch, including tadpoles, insects, other salamander larvae and even members of their own species if food supplies are scarce 
  • Adults use sticky tongues to catch invertebrates found on the forest floor, including earthworms, snails, slugs, millipedes, centipedes, insects and smaller salamander species

Predators:

  • Predators can wipe out 90 percent of all spotted salamander larvae before they hatch
  • Newts and crayfish feed on eggs
  • Aquatic insects, fish, wading birds, other salamander species and snakes feed on larvae
  • Skunks, raccoons, turtles and snakes feed on adults

Voice:

  • Communicate by smell, sight and touch. Rarely vocalize unless under attack 

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Breeding takes place at the end of winter, after the ground thaws. Adults migrate to freshwater breeding pools in response to the first spring rains, with males arriving first
  • There are more males in each breeding pool than females. Males compete for mates by rubbing, bumping and nosing into each other 
  • Males produce droplets of sperm that females take in to fertilize eggs. Males can fertilize several females, and females can take in sperm from several males 
  • Females produce 100 to 300 eggs per year, laying egg masses under water and attaching them to submerged objects
  • Eggs hatch in four to seven weeks. Larvae are a dull olive-green and are born with gills
  • Larvae transform into juveniles in two to four months, losing their gills and moving to land. Juveniles mature into breeding adults in two to three years 
  • More than 90 percent of offspring die before they leave their pond, due to predation, disease and ponds drying up
  • Adults can live for 20 to 30 years 

Other Facts:

  • Spotted salamanders return to the same breeding pool year after year.
  • Their bright spots act as a warning sign to predators that the spotted salamander produces toxic secretions behind its head and tail.
  • It is believed that algae and salamanders have a symbiotic relationship. Salamander’s egg sacks provide a safe place for algae to grow; in return, the algae produces oxygen for embryonic development.
  • Unspotted individuals occur, but are rare. 

Sources and Additional Information:


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