Northwestern Salamander

September 28, 2015
Heidi Rockney and Karen Wu
Northwestern Salamander

Northwestern Salamander.
Photo by Heidi Rockney

Closeup of Northwestern Salamander

Northwestern Salamander.
Photo by Heidi Rockney

Name: Northwestern Salamander (Ambystoma gracile)
Salamanders (Caudata
Mole Salamanders (Ambystomatidae)

What they look like

  • 7-13cm 
  • Large with short rounded heads and large paratoid glands behind eyes. 
  • Have a thick glandular region on the upper part of their tail and ridged lines along the sides of their body
  • Dark brown, gray or black; sometimes have flecks of cream or yellow.  

Where they live

  • View a map of where they live.
  • The Northwestern salamander is restricted to the Pacific coast of North America. In Washington State they are found west of the cascades, including Whidbey, Bainbridge and Vashon islands.
  • Found in a variety of moist habitats including open grasslands, woodlands and forests near freshwater sources.
  • Spend most of their time underground or under rotting logs.


  • Breeding season is Feb-April. In the high elevations of the Cascades, breeding frequently starts in late spring, from June to August.
  • Eggs masses are attached to underwater plants and grasses and are hard to the touch.
  • Egg masses accumulate algae that grow on the inside of the eggs, giving them a green color.
  • Larvae mature in 12-14 months. In higher elevations, the larvae often overwinter twice and will mature over three seasons.
  • Neotonic adults are common and the frequency of occurrence increases with elevation levels.

Cool Biology Facts

  • Larvae and terrestrial adults are mildly poisonous, because of this they can generally survive alongside predatory species, even introduced fish and species such as bullfrogs.
  • When disturbed, make a ticking sound and get into a defensive posture.
  • They butt heads and raise tails while emitting a sticky white poison from glands behind eyes and along back and tail when threatened and lash tails to spread the poison.


Northwestern Salamander distribution map

Map of Northwestern 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.

Back to Top