Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps)
Care Sheet

by Marc S Staniszewski

This care sheet needs updating to reflect recent taxonomic changes.



2.5 - 6.5", One of the worlds smallest (in terms of creature size) caudate genera, Batrachoseps are extremely slender, worm-like salamanders with a rather dull dorsa and flanks consisting of 15 to 22 costal grooves. The fact that there are 4 toes on each foot distinguishes this genus from most other western salamanders. In healthy individuals the tail is very long, slightly fleshy and equates to approximately one half to two-thirds of Batrachoseps total length. The tail can be very easily amputated along many constrictions along the entire length which is utilized as one of two main defensive features in this genus. Although the head is extremely small, the eyes are relatively large and frontally positioned. It is thought that this positioning is important where hunting of its relatively agile prey is concerned. Like a chameleon, Batrachoseps entire vision is directed forward so as to focus and judge with extreme accuracy the distance of the prey. This is then snared with a flick of a fairly extensible, sticky tongue and Batrachoseps rarely misses! Colour and patterning in slender salamanders is fairly invariable making species / subspecies identification difficult, sometimes impossible unless location data is known. Indeed some species have only been named recently based on genetic material although such evidence makes the classification of this genus rather confusing to say the least. The general dorsal color varies between light brown to dark grey or sometimes black. The flanks are almost always darker but with light speckles. The belly is perhaps the best pointer to a species as can be seen in the specific descriptions.

Figure 1: Typical Batracoseps Habitat - Del Monte Forest, Monterey
Often found in close proximity to Ensatina.

Range, Habitats & Habits:

Slender salamanders are distributed along the Pacific Coast of North America, from Baja California, coastal and central mountain California, Oregon to extreme southern Washington. Several species (some of which are recently described) exist as small relict populations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, inland Baja Califonia, Channel Islands, Nevada and Oregon. Their favoured habitats are the cool, humid woodland particularly where there is a good covering of dead leaves, decomposing bark and wood (especially within coniferous woodlands). However some species are extremely abundant, occurring in urban gardens, refuse tips, sewerage systems and roadside verges. Batrachoseps is quite bold in disposition, often found walking around after rainfall, during dawn and dusk. However it is essentially nocturnal and possesses several defensive mechanisms. As previously mentioned, the tail easily detach's and in a recent California research, up to 50 percent of specimens within Big Basin Redwoods National Park have regrown tails. In addition this salamander is very agile and also curls itself before catapulting to safety in a watch spring-like action.

Species Identification:

Figure 2: California Slender Salamander (Batrachoseps attenuatus)
One of the most familiar salamanders of western USA

California Slender Salamander - (B.attenuatus)
7 - 12cm. 17 - 22 costal grooves. The most abundant species, now known to be the common salamander of the west (a title formerly given to Aneides lugubris).. In recent studies it is estimated that there may be as many as 8 specimens per square metre within its range. The dorsum, which is a rusty-red or more usually sandy brown, is very elongate and is flanked by dark brown or black sides and limbs. A series of v-shaped marking often traverses the entire dorsum. The belly is brown-black with small white speckles. Range - from extreme southwest Oregon, along the whole California coast except the Monterey peninsular and extreme south. Also found in the lower foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. A relict population even exists on the infamous island of Alcatraz although this is thought to be in decline due to old age and excessive in-breeding.

Desert Slender Salamander - (B aridus)
5.5 - 9cm. 16 - 20 costal grooves. One of the smallest, most attractive Batrachoseps. The dorsum is black with a beautiful maroon tint, while the snout, flanks and tail sides are flecked with silver. The belly is a black-maroon. The tails is rather more laterally compressed than in other species. Range - A species classified as endangered on account of its very limited distribution - a single canyon in Riverside County, California. I actually found that it was extremely abundant within certain areas of the canyon possibly because there were very few natural predators present.
*Not available in captivity*

Inyo Mountains Slender Salamander -(B.campi)
7 - 13cm. Costal grooves between 16 and 19 or competely absent. This small, rather stream-lined species was only described in 1993. It is unique in being partially aquatic and although similar to, but smaller than , its dorsum is a light grey to sandy brown flecked with tiny black speckles. The flanks, legs and lower jaw are dark. The belly is black or dark brown,often with a scattering of white speckles. Range - It was discovered in some natural underground wells at 6,000 feet in the Mojave Desert, Inyo Mountains on the California/Nevada border. The surrounding habitat is rather dry and scrubby and the salamander rarely appears on the surface except following exceptionally heavy rainfall.
*Not available in captivity*

Garden Slender Salamander - (B.major)
9 - 16½cm. 18 or 19 costal grooves. The largest slender salamander, with a pale grey dorsal and flank coloration which exhibit a reddish tinge. The skin tends to be much smoother and shinier than B.attenuatus. The belly tends to be pale, either white or silvery grey with many minute black speckles. The tail is exceptionally long and the body is rather plump and rounded. Range - Mainly the island of Santa Catalina off the California coast, but also occurs in small pockets along the southern California coast (I found them in the garden (its main habitat in arid areas hence the common name) of a friend in San Diego), into Baja and even inland Baja in a few small oasis. Often occurs in quite dry habitats (where is is almost totally nocturnal) and can be very numerous after rainfall.

Black-bellied Slender Salamander - (B.nigriventris)
7 - 12cm. 18 - 20 costal grooves. Very similar to B.attenuatus in appearance except differentiated on account of slightly darker dorsum and its jet black belly devoid of any markings. It was formely described as a subspecies of B.attenuatus. Range - Takes over from B.attenuatus in the south of California - from San Diego to the Baja border. It inhabits both dryish scrubland, woodland, gardens and increasingly irrigated arable lands. Actual population densities are thought to be quite high where it occurs, however it is rarely seen except following heavy rainfall.

Channel Islands or Pacific Slender Salamander - (B.pacificus)
6½ - 13cm. 17 - 21 costal grooves. An attractive species with a grey or light brown dorsum with a pink and red mottled hue. The fleshy tail is longer than in other species and the belly ranges from a dirty grey to white rarely with black flecks. Range - Confined to the Channel Islands of Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel off the Californian coast. It is not common anywhere in its range.

Figure 3: The poorly known Relictual slender salamander (Batrachoseps relictus)
This one was found under an rusty can of oil in Del Monte Forest, Monterey

Relictual Slender Salamander - (B.relictus)
7 - 14cm. 20 or more costal grooves. This species was described as recently as 1967 (which is amazing on account of its relatively large distribution) and is thought to be the species from which all other slender salamanders evolved. Although its range is directly adjacent to and even overlaps that of B.attenuatus, coloration-wise it is distinct. Overall the dorsum tends to be grey with many silvery flecks and a black band running along the flanks. There is sometimes a nblack vertebral stripe. It is overall larger and more bulky than B.attenuatus. The belly is black with a sparse scattering of white speckles. Range - Monterey peninsular, mid-lowlands of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Santa Cruz island and a large relict population in central-east Baja.

Kern Canyon Slender Salamander - (B.simuatus)
8½ - 12cm. Up to 22 costal grooves. Discovered in 1960 by Arden Brame, B.simatus is a very slim (even by slender salamander proportions) species with a dark brown dorsum exhibiting a broken bronze-colored vertebral stripe. The flanks and belly are black, sometimes with white dots. Range - Restricted to the coniferous north-facing slopes of Kern River Canyon up to an altitude of 2,400 feet. I only found two small specimens when I visited the area in 1993.
*Not available in captivity*

Figure 4: The Tehachapi slender salamander (Batrachoseps tehachapi)
is unlikely to be found in captivity due to its very limited range

Tehachapi or Stebbins Slender Salamander - (B.stebbinsi)
9 - 12cm. 18 or 19 costal grooves. Discovered by Stebbins in 1957 this is a slim species with rather larger feet than other species thought to aid it in its rock-climbing habits. The feet also possess indistinctive webbing. The dorsum is dark grey with a scattering of black or dark red flecks sometimes merging to form a vertebral band. The belly is usually grey (occasionally black) often exhibiting large white blotches. The tail is relatively short. Range - Found in very rocky areas, pine forest and high meadows often near steams in the Paiute and Tehachapi Mountains up to an elevation of 8,500 feet (usually around 3,000 feet). Also found in small pockets in Kern County and Sequoia National Forest in montane regions.
*Not available in captivity*

Oregon Slender Salamander - (B.wrighti)
9 - 11cm. 16 - 18 costal grooves. A small species with a distinct dorsal coloration of red-brown with yellowish or red flecks. which form a narrow band from the snout to the tail tip. Belly is always black with large white or grey spots which often extend up the flanks to give a silvery color. Range - Confined to maple, red cedar and especially Douglas fir forests of North central Oregon and extreme south central Washington around the Columbia and Hood Rivers and the slopes of the Cascades. Tends to be rather rare in many of its habitats and populations are widely scattered. There is concern that this species is in fast decline due to acid rain phenomenon.

Laws & Regulations
Within California, you must have a valid California Fishing License to possess any reptile and/or amphibian and the possession limit for slender salamanders within California is 4. However, B.aridus is a strictly protected, class endangered species with require special licence conditions, while B.campi, B.simatus and B.stebbinsi also demand special permits for collection.


Captive Care

Slender salamanders are quite at home in relatively small housing, ideally 4 - 6 individuals per 3 square feet of terrarium. Males are territorial to an extent, therefore 1 male per 2 or 3 females is preferable. What they do demand is cool, damp and humid conditions with plenty of dark hiding places. Ensure that the terrarium is both well ventilated and also escape-proof. These salamanders are experts at using their moistened bellies as a sucker to scale glass.

As with Ensatina, the terrarium should be divided into three parts; In one corner there should be small, shallow water pan, no more than an inch deep and with easy egression points. This pan serves two purposes; one it allows the salamanders to bath should the rest of the terrarium dry out, and two it promotes higher humidity. Surround the water pan with lots of smooth rocks and pebbles then pad out the gaps loosely with sphagnum moss. This provides the salamanders with ideal humid resting places. The remainder of the terrarium should consist of about 2 inches of a chipped forest bark, sphagnum moss and loose leaf mixture. I also like to encourage some mossy plants (such as Mind-Your-Own-Business (Helixine soleirolii) and various ivies (Hedera sp.) to grow (maintaining them in their pots which are concealed by the mixture). Finish off this by placing several pieces of rotting wood, bogwood or swamp wood on top of the mixture, providing these secretive salamanders with more hiding places. Such a setup must be kept moist and also cleaned out every 10 - 14 days to prevent too much fungal and/or bacterial growth.

There is certainly no requirement for UVB lighting (unless live plants are maintained in the terrarium) because slender salamanders are primarily nocturnal or crepuscular. Locating the terrarium in a well lit place (but not in direct sunlight) will provide them with the photoperiods necessary to promote breeding.

Most Batrachoseps are quite tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, exceptions being the more localized species: B.aridus, B.campi, B.simatus and B.stebbinsi. B.attenuatus is perhaps the most adaptable species, being active in temperatures ranging from 48 to 75 degree F.. Island and southern slender salamanders prefer slightly higher temperatures between 55 and 72 degrees F. . The relictual slender is one of the few species to be active throughout the year but it occurs where temperatures rarely rise above 72 degrees F.. The Oregon slender demands constantly cool conditions, no higher than 70 degrees F. . Unless these temperatures can be constantly maintained then there really is no point attempting to keep slender salamanders as they will simply die. Heat stress is a well documented fatality in these and many other plethodontid salamanders. Temperature governs reproductive, feeding and hibernation behaviour. In the wild these salamanders are able to move deep underground to escape heat. In captivity they do not have such opportunities. In some areas it may be necessary to install some sort of air cooling/conditioning device, or I have personally utilized an old refrigerator, converted into a glass fronted cool terrarium for maintaining relictual salamanders. Humidity is also important. Being plethodontid or lungless salamanders, the exchange of oxygen and waste gases through the skin demands a moist environment. Mist the terrarium three or four times daily, using a slightly acidic water (clean rainwater which is free from pesticides/herbicides is ideal). DO NOT close off ventilation points to increase humidity. This will result in stale air and fungal/bacterial explosions which will prove far more harmful. Always ensure there is excellent ventilation.

Feeding/Watering Regimes
The water pan contents must be changed regularly. Misting of the cage should take place just before lights are switched on/near dawn and just before dusk/lights are switched off. Due to the small gape of these salamanders, food consists mainly of small insects, preferably aphids, fruitflies, spiders and small crickets. They will also take hatchling waxworm, freshly sloughed mini-mealworm and caterpillars. Crickets should be gut-loaded with carrots, oranges and other nutritients. Food can be dusted every other sitting with a vitamin supplement such as Rep-Cal. Although regularly making brief daytime forages, slender salamanders hunt chiefly at night so introduce a sufficient number of these food items during dusk.

Dormancy appears to be important where breeding is concerned except in B.relictus. Slender salamanders from the northern Pacific states (ie. B.attenuatus/wrighti require a brief hibernation period from December to February at temperatures of around 44 degrees F.. I hibernate my specimens in a refrigerator but ensure that the container is given air at least twice a day. Only attempt to hibernate sexually mature and well-fed Batrachoseps. Yearlings and two yearlings should be cooled to a minimum of 50 degrees F. Southern species require an estivation period of 6 weeks between July to September. Place the salamanders in an escape-proof plastic shoe box or old aquarium filled with a damp (not moist or sodden) substrate such as a mixture of chipped forest bark, moss peat and sphagnum moss. Place the container somewhere where the temperature is around 70 degrees F. certainly not above 75.

Breeding is not easy with slender salamanders, usually a hit or miss affair. Correct hibernation, temperature and humidity regimes are essential in reproduction. Courtship can take place during 9 months of the year. There is no aquatic stage, mating, egg deposition or larvae. Males are distinguished by the two cirri on the upper lip (small pointed projections), are usually more stream-lined and often have a slightly longer tail. Eggs are laid in moist depressions in moss or leaf litter. The importance of damp, rotting wood can not be emphasized too much. Female slender salamanders nearly always seek such a substrate in which to deposit their 8 - 25 rather large (4mm diameter), yellowish eggs which possess a gelatinous shell and swell as they soak surrounding moisture. It may be necessary to regularly soak such wood in water both prior too and following egg deposition. Adult females (and sometimes males) occasionally guard and moisten the eggs. Larval development takes place entirely within the egg shell. Miniature replicas of the parents hatch out after 45 - 60 days. They measure approximately 20mm on hatching and must be separated from the adults who may accidently bite of a leg or even devour them whole. Rearing such small creature requires great patience and care. Maintain them in containers of moist sphagnum moss (NEVER allow this to dry out) and provide a diet of small aphids, sweepings, hatchling mini-waxworm. Given sufficient food they can mature in just 12 months altough 18 - 24 months in more likely.

Other Comments
Longevity is in the 7 - 10 year range. Handling of slender salamanders must be kept to a minimum. The tail can be amputated at the slightest touch, and a regrown tail is rather stumpy, discolored and distictly less attractive. Also the skin is rather delicate and can be easily damaged. Always wet hands before handling these and any other plethodontid salamanders.

Please note that all Batrachoseps species and other amphibians are strictly protected within U.S. State and National Parks and should not be collected unless you have special authorisation to do so.


Information gathered from the following books/persons was used in the generation of this page.

1.) The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians - Bebler & King, Knopf Publishing
2.) Discovering Sierra Reptiles and Amphibians - Harold E.Basey, Yosemite Association

3.) Amphibians in Captivity (TFH) - Marc Staniszewski (1995) [image]

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All text and photo's - Copyright ©1996-2002 Marc Staniszewski
Most recent revision: 06/08/2002