Ambystoma maculatum - (Shaw, 1802)
Spotted Salamander
Other English Common Names: Yellow-spotted Salamander, spotted salamander
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Ambystoma maculatum (Shaw, 1802) (TSN 173590)
French Common Names: salamandre maculée
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.104612
Element Code: AAAAA01090
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Amphibians - Salamanders
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Amphibia Caudata Ambystomatidae Ambystoma
Genus Size: D - Medium to large genus (21+ species)
Check this box to expand all report sections:
Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Frost, D. R. 1985. Amphibian species of the world. A taxonomic and geographical reference. Allen Press, Inc., and The Association of Systematics Collections, Lawrence, Kansas. v + 732 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B85FRO01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Ambystoma maculatum
Taxonomic Comments: "Despite apparent morphological uniformity, genetic discontinuities throughout the range of this species suggest that populations were historically fragmented in at least two refugia in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The ranges of these two highly divergent clades ["coastal" and "interior"] expanded northward, resulting in two widely distributed lineages that are sympatric in regions previously proposed as suture zones for other taxa." (Zamudio and Savage 2003).

See Kraus (1988), Shaffer et al. (1991), and Jones et al. (1993) for phylogenetic analyses of North American Ambystoma.

Allozyme data indicate that the closest relative of A. maculatum is A. gracile (Shaffer et al. 1991), a conclusion that is not supported by any morphological data (Kraus 1988).
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 22Jan2016
Global Status Last Changed: 09Jul2002
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (05Nov1996)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N5 (22Jan2016)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Alabama (S5), Arkansas (S5), Connecticut (S5), Delaware (S2), District of Columbia (S4), Georgia (S5), Illinois (S4), Indiana (S4), Kentucky (S5), Louisiana (S5), Maine (S5), Maryland (S5), Massachusetts (S5), Michigan (S4), Minnesota (S3), Mississippi (S5), Missouri (S5), New Hampshire (S5), New Jersey (S3), New York (S5), North Carolina (S5), Ohio (SNR), Oklahoma (S3), Pennsylvania (S4), Rhode Island (S4), South Carolina (SNR), Tennessee (S5), Texas (S4), Vermont (S5), Virginia (S5), West Virginia (S5), Wisconsin (S4)
Canada New Brunswick (S5), Nova Scotia (S5), Ontario (S4), Prince Edward Island (S5), Quebec (S5)

Other Statuses

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): Candidate (Medium) (26Jan2015)
IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 200,000 to >2,500,000 square km (about 80,000 to >1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Range extends throughout most of the eastern United States (except Florida) and adjacent southern Canada; west to eastern Iowa and eastern Texas (Conant and Collins 1991).

Area of Occupancy: >12,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments:  

Number of Occurrences: > 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Throughout the range, occurrences are many and/or large.

Population Size: 100,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but surely is greater than 100,000 and may exceed 1,000,000.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Very many (>125)

Overall Threat Impact: Unknown
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Threats to local populations include intensive timber harvesting practices that reduce canopy closure, understory vegetation, uncompacted forest litter, or coarse woody debris (moderately to well-decayed) in areas surrounding breeding sites (deMaynadier and Hunter 1999). Dispersing juveniles tend to avoid open canopy habitat, so deforestation and fragmentation likely reduce dispersal rates between local populations and could negatively impact population persistence in altered landscapes (Rothermal and Semlitsch 2002). Negative impacts of intensive timber harvesting extend at least 25-35 m into uncut forest (deMaynadier and Hunter 1998).
Many populations are becoming increasing isolated as deforestation and loss of vernal pools reduce gene flow among demes (Petranka 1998). This may result in inbreeding depression and reduce the probability of reestablishment of extirpated populations.
Local populations may be heavily impacted by excessive mortality of adults caused by vehicles on roads near breeding sites. Roads negatively impact salamander abundance in roadside habitat and may serve as partial barriers to movement (deMaynadier and Hunter 2000).
Embryo mortality generally decreases as pH deceases below 6.0, though in some areas successful reproduction has occurred at a relatively low pH (Cook 1983, Blem and Blem 1989). In central Pennsylvania, low pH was associated with deleterious sublethal effects on larvae (Sadinski and Dunson 1992).
High concentrations of various chemical elements, unfavorable temperatures, or low oxygen content may result in reproductive failure; see Blem and Blem (1991) and Albers and Prouty (1987). Deicing salts that contaminate roadside vernal pools result in reduced embryonic survival (Turtle 2000).

Short-term Trend: Decline of <30% to relatively stable
Short-term Trend Comments: Populations declined in eastern Virginia during the 1980s (Blem and Blem 1991).

Long-term Trend: Decline of <50% to Relatively Stable

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements common.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: (200,000 to >2,500,000 square km (about 80,000 to >1,000,000 square miles)) Range extends throughout most of the eastern United States (except Florida) and adjacent southern Canada; west to eastern Iowa and eastern Texas (Conant and Collins 1991).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI, WV
Canada NB, NS, ON, PE, QC

Range Map
Note: Range depicted for New World only. The scale of the maps may cause narrow coastal ranges or ranges on small islands not to appear. Not all vagrant or small disjunct occurrences are depicted. For migratory birds, some individuals occur outside of the passage migrant range depicted. For information on how to obtain shapefiles of species ranges see our Species Mapping pages at

Range Map Compilers: IUCN, Conservation International, NatureServe, and collaborators, 2004

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
DE Kent (10001), New Castle (10003), Sussex (10005)
MA Barnstable (25001)*, Berkshire (25003)*, Bristol (25005)*, Dukes (25007)*, Essex (25009)*, Franklin (25011)*, Hampden (25013), Hampshire (25015)*, Middlesex (25017), Norfolk (25021), Plymouth (25023)*, Worcester (25027)
MN Carlton (27017), Pine (27115)
NJ Middlesex (34023), Ocean (34029), Passaic (34031), Sussex (34037), Warren (34041)
OK Cherokee (40021), Muskogee (40101)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
01 Merrimack (01070002)+*, Nashua (01070004)+, Concord (01070005)+, Middle Connecticut (01080201)+, Chicopee (01080204)+*, Lower Connecticut (01080205)+*, Charles (01090001)+, Cape Cod (01090002)+*, Narragansett (01090004)+*, Housatonic (01100005)+*
02 Hackensack-Passaic (02030103)+, Raritan (02030105)+, Middle Delaware-Musconetcong (02040105)+, Brandywine-Christina (02040205)+, Broadkill-Smyrna (02040207)+, Mullica-Toms (02040301)+, Chincoteague (02040303)+, Chester-Sassafras (02060002)+
04 Beartrap-Nemadji (04010301)+
07 Upper St. Croix (07030001)+
11 Dirty-Greenleaf (11110102)+, Illinois (11110103)+
MI MI-06 (MI-06)+*
NC NC-08 (NC-08)+*
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
General Description: Spotted salamanders have smooth skin with vertical grooves on each side of the torso, a broad head, and small eyes. The upper side is black with numerous rounded yellow or orange spots. The belly is slate gray. Maximum total length is about 9.8 inches (25 cm). Large larvae have large external gills, a reticulated pattern on the upper surface, small dark spots on the lower sides, and a pale belly; they lack dark stippling on the throat. Egg masses are up to several inches in diameter, have clear to milky or green jelly, and contain usually several dozen eggs.
Reproduction Comments: Rain and warming temperatures stimulate migrations to breeding ponds in winter or early spring (Grace and Church 2003). Migrations to breeding sites occur in March-April in the northern part of the range, mainly December-February in the south. In eastern Missouri, migration to ponds occurred after the first week of February on all days when mean 3-day temperature was at least 5.5 C and precipitation at least 4 mm (Sexton et al. 1990). After arriving in the breeding pools, females pick up sperm from the spermatophores that males deposit on the pool bottom. Soon thereafter females attach masses of eggs to submerged stems or other submerged objects. Individual females deposit up to 250 eggs (average <100); eggs of an individual females may be laid in one large mass or divided among several masses of about 50-90 eggs. Hundreds of females may deposit eggs in a single pool, and the egg masses of different females often exhibit an aggregated dispersion pattern. Larvae hatch in 1-2 months.In a pond in Ohio, hatching rate over 4 years was 60-72%, and the number of larvae that hatched ranged from 232,000 to 527,000 (Brodman, 1995, J. Herpetol. 29:111-113). Larvae metamorphose in 2-4 months or sometimes overwinter in the pond. In eastern Missouri, metamorphosis occurred mainly by October in some years, in spring after overwintering in other years (Phillips 1992). In Massachusetts, mean time from hatching to exit from pond was 98 days (States et al. 1988). Newly metamorphosed individuals live on land for a few years before returning to water to breed (usually in their natal pool).

In Quebec, most individuals caught in temporary ponds in spring were between 2 and 18 years old; most females were mature by the age 7 years at SVL greater than 78 mm whereas many males reached maturity between the ages of 2 and 6 years at SVL greater than 63 mm (Flageole and Leclair 1992).

Many individuals usually breed in a single pool (e.g., in eastern Massachusetts, 196 males and 132 females entered a pond with a surface area of about 30 square meters; 118 egg masses were found (States et al. 1988). Harris (Copeia 1980:719-722) found 237 egg masses in one pond.

Ecology Comments: Larvae may be preyed on by larval A. opacum where the two occur together. Predation on larvae by fishes may prohibit successful reproduction (Ireland 1989). In a Massachusetts pond, survival to metamorphosis was 3.1% for 10,000+ embryos in a year when pond did not dry; up to 13% survival recorded in other studies (see States et al. 1988). In West Virginia, larvae of the caddisfly Banksiola dossuaria preyed on embryos (Stout et al. 1992). In Pennsylvania, larvae of the caddisfly Ptilostomis postica sometimes preyed heavily on embryos (Rowe et al. 1994).

See Semlitsch (1988) for information on factors affecting ecological distribution in southeastern U.S.

The egg masses of spotted salamanders sometimes contain green algae that use the carbon dioxide produced by the embryos and in turn produce oxygen that the salamander embryos can use.

Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: Y
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: Migrations between nonbreeding and breeding habitats extend up to several hundred meters. Mean distance between breeding site and summer/winter habitat was 192 m, 150 m, 118 m, and 64 m in four studies; see Kleeberger and Werner (1983) and Madison (1997). In Vermont, 5 radio-tagged individuals moved 52-219 m (mean 137 m) from the edge of their breeding pool (Faccio 2003).

Individuals tend to enter and exit breeding ponds along the same route in successive years (Phillips and Sexton 1989).

Riverine Habitat(s): CREEK, Pool
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Bare rock/talus/scree, Forest - Hardwood, Forest - Mixed, Woodland - Hardwood, Woodland - Mixed
Special Habitat Factors: Benthic, Burrowing in or using soil, Fallen log/debris
Habitat Comments: Spotted salamanders inhabit hardwood and mixed forests, in the vicinity of swamps and vernal pools. They are usually underground or under soil surface objects except during the breeding period. Logs, stumps, and mammal burrows provide important cover (Faccio 2003). In New York, distribution apparently is influenced by soil pH (Wyman 1988).

Eggs usually are attached to submerged stems or other objects in vernal pools and semipermanent or permanent ponds in or adjacent to forest. In many areas, the species breeds mainly in ponds inaccessible to predatory fishes; however on the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the southeastern United States, spotted salamanders breed in sloughs or backwater lowland areas along streams that frequently contain or are easily colonized by predatory fishes that opportunistically feed on amphibian larvae (Semlitsch 1988). Eggs may be laid in ponds when they are ice-covered if salamanders already are present in the pond (States et al. 1988).

Adult Food Habits: Carnivore, Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Carnivore, Invertivore
Food Comments: Larvae eat mostly small aquatic invertebrates (especially copepods and cladoderans, also chaoborids); sometimes also amphibian larvae when available. Adults eat various terrestrial invertebrates (DeGraaf and Rudis 1983).
Adult Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates, Nocturnal
Immature Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates, Nocturnal
Phenology Comments: Adults most active during rains at night during breeding period.
Colonial Breeder: Y
Length: 25 centimeters
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Management Requirements: Needed conservation measures include protection of vernal pools and adjacent wooded areas up to at least 200-250 m from the pools. Also, regulatory agencies should attempt to minimize forest fragmentation. The species could benefit from regulations that minimize acid deposition.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Ambystomatid Salamanders

Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more individuals (including larvae or eggs) in or near appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Separation Barriers: Heavily traveled road, especially at night during salamander breeding season, such that salamanders almost never successfully traverse the road; road with a barrier that is impermeable to salamanders; wide, fast rivers; areas of intensive development dominated by buildings and pavement.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 1 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 3 km
Separation Justification: BARRIERS/UNSUITABLE HABITAT: Rivers may or may not be effective barriers, depending on stream width and hydrodynamics; identification of streams as barriers is a subjective determination. Bodies of water dominated by predatory fishes have been described as barriers but probably should be regarded as unsuitable habitat. For A. barbouri, a stream-pool breeder, predatory fishes appeared to act as a barrier to larval dispersal and gene flow for populations separated by as little as 500-1000 m (Storfer 1999). Highly disturbed land, such as the cleared and bedded soils of some silvicultural site preparation, may serve as an impediment to movement of A. cingulatum (Means et al. 1996), although Ashton (1998) noted the species' use of pine plantations, pastures, and three-year-old clearcuts. Such areas should be treated as unsuitable habitat rather than barriers.

MOVEMENTS: Palis's (1997b) suggested use of 3.2 km between breeding sites to distinguish breeding populations of A. cingulatum was based on Ashton's (1992) finding that individuals may move as much as 1.6 km from their breeding ponds. Ambystoma californiense sometimes migrates up to 2 km between breeding ponds and terrestrial habitat (see USFWS 2004). Funk and Dunlap (1999) found that A. macrodactylum managed to recolonize lakes after trout extirpation despite evidence of low levels of interpopulation dispersal. Based on a review of several Ambystoma species (e.g., Semlitsch 1981, Douglas and Monroe 1981, Kleeberger and Werner 1983, Madison 1997), Semlitsch (1998) concluded that a radius of less than 200 meters around a breeding pond would likely encompass the terrestrial habitat used by more than 95 percent of adults. Faccio's (2003) study of radio-tagged A. maculatum and A. jeffersonianum in Vermont supports this conclusion. In New York, all movements of A. tigrinum occurred in areas within 300 m of the nearest breeding pond (Madison and Farrand 1998). However, most studies of these salamanders had small sample sizes and/or were not designed to detect long-distance movements, so migration distance may be somewhat underestimated.

In summary, ambystomatid salamanders generally stay within a few hundred meters of their breeding pool. Due to high breeding site fidelity and limitation of breeding to pool basins, populations using different breeding sites exhibit little or no interbreeding among adults. Thus one might argue that each pool constitutes a separate occurrence or that the separation distance for suitable habitat should be the nominal minimum of 1 km. However, little is known about how frequently first-time (or experienced) breeders use non-natal pools (pools from which they did not originate) or how far they may move to such sites. Frequent colonization of new and remote habitats by at least some species suggests that dispersal movements sometimes may be longer than typical adult migration distances. It seems unlikely that locations separated by a gap of less than a few kilometers of suitable habitat would represent independent occurrences over the long term.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .3 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: Inferred extent distance pertains to breeding sites (with the center of the circle in the center of the breeding site). Most ambystomatids stay within a few hundred meters of their breeding pool (see separation justification section).
Date: 10Sep2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 25Jan2010
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 25Jan2010
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).


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