Cope's Giant Salamander

Cope's Giant Salamander

October 23, 2015
Heidi Rockney and Karen Wu
Cope's giant salamander

Cope's giant salamander.
Photo: Heidi Rockney

Cope's giant salamander gills.

Cope's giant salamander.
Photo: Heidi Rockney

Name: Cope's Giant Salamander (Dicamptodon copei)
Order: Salamanders (Caudata)
Family: Giant Salamanders (Dicamptodontidae)

What they look like

  • 2- 20cm
  • Larvae and adults in the aquatic form are brown, sometimes with patches of yellow or tan
  • They have short, bushy gills, and have many small white skin glands all over the body.
  • Their undersides are often blue-gray.
  • Only a few metamorphosed adults have ever been found

Where they live

  • View a map of where they live.
  • Copes giant salamanders are only found in the Pacific Northwest. In Washington State they are found in the Olympic and the Cascade Mountains and Willapa Hills of southern Washington
  • Prefer clear, cold mountain streams in damp forests.
  • They spend most days under rocks in the streams, but move about openly on the stream bottom in the evenings.


  • Eggs are laid is spring and fall under rocks or logs in streams in hidden spots and are protected by the female.
  • Eggs are white and laid one at a time and attached to the wall of the nest site. Eggs can take up to 200 days before hatching.

Cool Biology Facts

  • Cope's giant salamanders usually mature and reproduce in the almost entirely in their aquatic form without metamorphosing into terrestrial adults. This is called paedomorphosis or neoteny
  • This happens because most individuals do not respond to the hormones that normally would trigger metamorphosis in other salamanders.
  • In lab studies, thyroid treatments have shown to trigger metamorphosis.


Distribution map.

Map of Cope's Giant Salamander distribution in Washington state. Learn more on the NatureMapping Foundation website

Explore more of the Amphibians & Reptiles of Washington or check out All About Amphibians.

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