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Amphibians of Washington

Rhyacotriton olympicus, Olympic torrent salamander

Description (GAP Analysis map)  This is a small salamander (up to 10 cm total length) that lives in clear, cold mountain streams. It is medium to dark brown and may have a few small light spots on the sides and small dark spots on the tail; it is bright yellow on the belly, usually with some dark spots. Torrent salamanders typically have short snouts and relatively large eyes. As in other torrent salamanders, adult males have square-edged lobes behind the cloaca.

Distribution  The olympic torrent salamander occurs in the Olympic Mountains of Washington.

Habitat. These salamanders live at the edges of clear, cold mountain streams; they can be abundant under gravel at stream edges and in the spray zones of waterfalls. During rainy seasons, they are occasionally found on under objects on land away from streams.

Cool Biology Facts. All torrent salamanders have a larval stage with tiny external gills, but lose the gills at metamorphosis. Adults have very reduced lungs and breathe mostly through their skin. When severely disturbed, Olympic salamanders may roll over onto the back to flash the bright yellow belly at predators (as in picture below), apparently in an attempt to startle them so that they leave the salamander alone; this or a similar behavior occurs in several salamanders and frogs, and is called the unken reflex.

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

Rhyacotriton olympicus, Olympic torrent salamander
Rhyacotriton olympicus, Olympic torrent salamander
Photo by Brad Moon