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Amphibians of Washington

Dicamptodon copei, Cope's giant salamander

Description (GAP Analysis map) This is a medium to large salamander (up to 20 cm total length) that lives in clear, cold mountain streams. Larvae and adults in the aquatic form are brown, have short gills, and have many small fields of glandular spots all over the body. Rare adults in the terrestrial form may have marbled colors only on the head, or may have markings all over the body.

Distribution. Cope's giant salamander occurs in the Olympic Mountains of Washington, the Cascade Mountains and Willapa Hills of southern Washington, and extreme northwestern Oregon. It occurs with the Pacific giant salamander everywhere except on the Olympic Peninsula.

Habitat. These salamanders live in clear, cold mountain streams. They spend most days under rocks in the streams, but move about openly on the streambottom in the evenings, and even occasionally come out onto the streambanks.

Cool Biology Facts. Cope's giant salamanders usually mature and reproduce in the aquatic form, without metamorphosing into terrestrial adults. This condition is called paedomorphosis (or sometimes neoteny); so these salamanders are often described as being paedomorphic (or neotenic). This happens because most individuals lack the physiological ability to respond to the hormones that induce metamorphosis in other salamanders. However, these salamanders occasionally do metamorphose, and a few (roughly a dozen) terrestrial individuals have been found.

Conservation status. These salamanders live and breed in clear, cold, fast-flowing streams with rock or gravel bottoms. They can be very common in appropriate habitats. However, they are sensitive to stream siltation and warming caused by excessive logging and other human activities.

Dicamptodon copei, Cope's giant salamander (underwater)
Dicamptodon copei, Cope's giant salamander (underwater)
Photo by Brad Moon