Ensatina eschscholtzii - Gray, 1850
Other English Common Names: Common Ensatina
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Ensatina eschscholtzii Gray, 1850 (TSN 173732)
French Common Names: salamandre variable
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.105136
Element Code: AAAAD04010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Amphibians - Salamanders
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Amphibia Caudata Plethodontidae Ensatina
Genus Size: A - Monotypic genus
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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: Ensatina eschscholtzii
Taxonomic Comments: Citing sympatry with only rare interbreeding between subspecies ESCHSCHOLTZII and KLAUBERI, Frost and Hillis (1990) argued that subspecies KLAUBERI (and probably other subspecies) should be regarded as a distinct species. Moritz et al. (1992) used mtDNA analyses to substantiate the hypothesis that ENSATINA is a "ring species" and that subspecies ESCHSCHOLTZII and KLAUBERI are the end points of two independently evolving lineages that are now genetically and in some places reproductively isolated. Moritz et al. (1992) cautioned against using mtDNA data alone to determine species boundaries (e.g., "species" based on mtDNA may be united by nuclear gene flow); they continued to regard ENSATINA as comprising one polytypic species. The geographically distant populations of subspecies ESCHSCHOLTZII exhibit a low level of genetic divergence; the same is true for the coastal and inland populations of subspecies XANTHOPTICA; apparently the spread of these subspecies has been relatively recent (Moritz et al. 1992). These and and other studies of ENSATINA systematics were reviewed by Highton (1998) and Wake and Schneider (1998).

Highton (1998) concluded that published data support the recognition of multiple species of ENSATINA, whereas Wake and Schneider (1998) disagreed, cited relevant data unavailable to Highton, and stated that a new taxonomy may be required when studies in progress are completed. For the present, Wake and Schneider (1998) recommended continued recognition of the ENSATINA complex as a single polytypic species. Wake and Jockusch (2000) provided further information supporting recognition of E. ESCHSCHOLTZII as a single ring species.
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5
Global Status Last Reviewed: 05Jun2015
Global Status Last Changed: 18Oct2001
Ranking Methodology Used: Ranked by inspection
Rounded Global Status: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Large range along the coastal ranges and Sierra Nevada from southern British Columbia to northern Baja California; many stable populations; no major pervasive threats.
Nation: United States
National Status: N5 (05Nov1996)
Nation: Canada
National Status: N4 (05Jun2015)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States California (SNR), Oregon (S5), Washington (S5)
Canada British Columbia (S4)

Other Statuses

Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC): Not at Risk (01Apr1999)
Comments on COSEWIC: Reason for Designation: Despite possible losses of habitat due to development, this species is more widespread than originally thought. It is not subject to population fluctuations, and is not much affected by the fragmentation of its range. Although this species may be susceptible to changes in the forest habitat as a result of logging, it is not presently at risk.

Status History: Designated Not at Risk in April 1999. More recently (2015) considered a medium priority candidate for re-assessment.

IUCN Red List Category: LC - Least concern

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Southwestern British Columbia south along Coast Ranges to extreme northwestern Baja California and the Sierra San Pedro Martir, Baja California (Mahrdt et al. 1998); and along western slopes of Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada. Recently recorded east of the Cascade crest in Washington (Darda et al. 2001). Absent from Sacramento-San Joaquin valley, California. Occurs from sea level to elevations of about 8,000 ft (Stebbins 1985). See Moritz et al. (1992) for a general but up-to-date distribution map.

Number of Occurrences: 81 - 300
Number of Occurrences Comments: Represented by many and/or large occurrences throughout the range.

Population Size: 100,000 - 1,000,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but likely exceeds 100,000.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Many (41-125)
Viability/Integrity Comments: Likely more than 40 occurrences have good viability.

Overall Threat Impact: Medium
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Habitat destruction and degradation likely are affecting a low percentage of existing populations. The nominate subspecies is probably heavily impacted by the loss of habitat as a result of the development and expansion of vineyards.

Short-term Trend: Decline of <30% to relatively stable
Short-term Trend Comments: Recent trend likely is a slight decline.

Long-term Trend: Decline of <30% to increase of 25%
Long-term Trend Comments: Extent of occurrence has been relatively stable. Area of occupancy and population size surely have declined somewhat, but probably by less than 25%.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Moderate. Generalist or community with some key requirements scarce.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) Southwestern British Columbia south along Coast Ranges to extreme northwestern Baja California and the Sierra San Pedro Martir, Baja California (Mahrdt et al. 1998); and along western slopes of Cascade Range and Sierra Nevada. Recently recorded east of the Cascade crest in Washington (Darda et al. 2001). Absent from Sacramento-San Joaquin valley, California. Occurs from sea level to elevations of about 8,000 ft (Stebbins 1985). See Moritz et al. (1992) for a general but up-to-date distribution map.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States CA, OR, WA
Canada BC

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 www.natureserve.org/conservation-tools/data-maps-tools.

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

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
CA Kern (06029), Los Angeles (06037), Riverside (06065), San Bernardino (06071), San Diego (06073)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
18 Middle Kern-Upper Tehachapi- (18030003)+, Cuyama (18060007)+, San Gabriel (18070106)+, San Jacinto (18070202)+, San Luis Rey-Escondido (18070303)+, San Diego (18070304)+, Antelope-Fremont Valleys (18090206)+, Southern Mojave (18100100)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Reproduction Comments: Breeding occurs primarily in spring and fall (Stebbins 1985). Female broods a cluster of 7-25 eggs. Eggs hatch in fall or early winter. There is no aquatic larval stage. Reaches sexual maturity in 2.5-3.5 years (Stebbins 1954, Behler and King 1979). Maximum estimated age in the Sierra Nevada was 15 years (Staub et al. 1995).
Ecology Comments: Population densities of 283 salamanders/ha have been reported (Nussbaum et al. 1983). In the Sierra Nevada of California (subspecies PLATENSIS), in old-growth conifer forest, maximum distance moved in a multi-year study was 120 m for males and 61 m for females (Staub et al. 1995).
Non-Migrant: Y
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Palustrine Habitat(s): Riparian
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Forest - Conifer, Forest - Hardwood, Forest - Mixed, Shrubland/chaparral, Woodland - Conifer, Woodland - Hardwood, Woodland - Mixed
Special Habitat Factors: Burrowing in or using soil, Fallen log/debris
Habitat Comments: North: Douglas-fir/maple forests, forest clearings. In coastal areas, redwood forest, chaparral, oak woodland, canyons. Sierra Nevada: pine-oak-incense cedar forests. In dry or cold weather: in caves, underground, in rotting logs. Eggs are laid undergound, or under the bark of or within rotting logs (Stebbins 1985).
Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: Feeds on a variety of invertebrates including insects (e.g., beetles, springtails, crickets), spiders, and millipedes.
Adult Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates
Immature Phenology: Hibernates/aestivates
Phenology Comments: Inactive in cold temperatures and hot, dry weather. Emerges in fall with onset of rainly season and usually remains active until end of May or June (in the north and at high elevations) (Behler and King 1979).
Length: 15 centimeters
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary Not yet assessed
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Terrestrial Plethodontid 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 eggs) in or near appropriate habitat where the species is presumed to be established and breeding.
Separation Barriers: Busy highway, especially with high traffic volume at night; major river or lake; other totally inappropriate habitat that the salamanders cannot traverse.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 1 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 3 km
Separation Justification: These salamanders rarely successfully cross roadways that have heavy traffic volume at night, when most movements occur. Rivers and lakes pose formidable impediments to movement and generally function as barriers, with the effect increasing with river and lake size. Treatment of these as barriers or unsuitable habitat is a subjective determination.

Compared to larger ambystomatid salamanders, the movements of plethodontids are poorly documented, but it is clear that home ranges tend to be very small (e.g., Marvin 2001), on the order of a few meters to a few dozen meters in diameter. For example, Welsh and Lind (1992) found that over six months, 66% of Plethodon elongatus males and 80% of females recaptured were in the same 7.5 x 7.5 m grid, and the maximum distance moved was 36.2 m. D. Clayton (pers. comm 1998) estimated that average home ranges may be as small as one square meter. Yet, on occasion, dispersing plethodontids likely travel at least several hundred meters. The separation distance for unsuitable habitat reflects the nominal minimum value of 1 km. The separation distance for suitable habitat reflects the limited movements of these salamanders, tempered by their tendency to occur throughout patches of suitable habitat and the likely low probability that two 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): .1 km
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: 21Mar2002
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 07May1996
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).

  • Behler, J. L., and F. W. King. 1979. The Audubon Society field guide to North American reptiles and amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 719 pp.

  • Blackburn, L., P. Nanjappa, and M. J. Lannoo. 2001. An Atlas of the Distribution of U.S. Amphibians. Copyright, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA.

  • Cook, F. R. 1984. Introduction to Canadian amphibians and reptiles. National Museum of Natural Sciences, National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

  • Corn, P. S., and R. B. Bury. 1991. Terrestrial amphibian communities in the Oregon Coast Range. Pages 3-4-317 in L. F. Ruggerio, K. B. Aubry, and M. H. Huff, technical coordinators. Wildlife and vegetation of unmanaged Douglas-fir forests. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Olympia, Washington, General Technical Report PNW-GTR-285.

  • Darda, D. M., J. W. Baugh, and P. A. Garvey-Darda. 2001. Geographic distribution. Ensatina eschscholzii. Herpetological Review 32:53.

  • 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.

  • Frost, D. R., and D. M. Hillis. 1990. Species in concept and practice: herpetological applications. Herpetologica 46:87-104.

  • Highton, R. 1998. Is ENSATINA ESCHSCHOLTZII a ring-species? Herpetologica 54:254-278.

  • Jones, L.L.C., W. P. Leonard, and D. H. Olson, editors. 2005. Amphibians of the Pacific Northwest. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle, Washington. xii + 227 pp.

  • Mahrdt, C. R., R. H. McPeak, and L. L. Grismer. 1998. The discovery of ENSATINA ESCHSCHOLTZII KLAUBERI (Plethodontidae) in the Sierra San Pedro Martir, Baja California, Mexico. Herpetological Natural History 6:73-76.

  • Moritz, C., C. J. Schneider, and D. B. Wake. 1992. Evolutionary relationships within the ENSATINA ESCHSCHOLTZII complex confirm the ring species interpretation. Syst. Biol. 41:273-291.

  • Nussbaum, R.A., E.D. Brodie, Jr., and R.M. Storm. 1983. Amphibians and Reptiles of the Pacific Northwest. University Press of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho. 332 pp.

  • Petranka, J. W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

  • Staub, N. L., C. W. Brown, and D. B. Wake. 1995. Patterns of growth and movements in a population of ENSATINA ESCHSCHOLTZII PLATENSIS (Caudata: Plethodontidae) in the Sierra Nevada, California. Journal of Herpetology 29:593-599.

  • Stebbins, R. C. 1954a. Amphibians and reptiles of western North America. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.

  • Stebbins, R. C. 1954b. Natural history of the salamanders of the plethodontid genus Ensatina. Univ. California Publ. Zool. 54:377-512.

  • Stebbins, R. C. 1985a. A field guide to western reptiles and amphibians. Second edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. xiv + 336 pp.

  • Stebbins, R. C. 2003. A field guide to western reptiles and amphibians. Third edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

  • Wake, D. B., and C. J. Schneider. 1998. Taxonomy of the plethodontid salamander genus ENSATINA. Herpetologica 54:279-298.

  • Wake, D. B., and E. L. Jockusch. 2000. Detecting species borders using diverse data sets: examples from plethodontid salamanders in California. Pages 95-119 in Bruce, R. C., R. G. Jaeger, and L. D. Houck, editors. The biology of plethodontid salamanders. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York.

  • Wake, D.B. 1997. Incipient species formation in salamanders of the Ensatina complex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 94:7761-7767.

  • Weller, W. F., and D. M. Green. 1997. Checklist and current status of Canadian amphibians. Pages 309-328 in D. M. Green, editor. Amphibians in decline: Canadian studies of a global problem. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Herpetological Conservation 1.

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Citation for Bird Range Maps of North America:
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