Burke Museum Home

Amphibians of Washington

Northwestern salamander
(Ambystoma gracile)


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

  • 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.
  • 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


Distribution Map


Main threats are habitat destruction and deforestation.