Santa Cruz Long-toed Salamander

In Freshwater, Reptiles and Amphibians, Santa Cruz long-toed salamander, Slough Life by Administrator

Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum
Family: Ambystomatidae

Found at Elkhorn Slough

Elkhorn Slough Reserve, Cattail Swale, and other freshwater ponds in the watershed

Did you know…

SCLTS only live for about 10 years.

The coastal terrace along Monterey Bay is a unique terrestrial landscape that provides shelter to one of the rarest vertebrates in North America: the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander (SCLTS). This relictual species was first discovered along Bonita Drive in Aptos in 1954. What makes this salamander a relict is its very small distribution and its nearly 2 million years of isolation from its most recent common ancestor. However, with increasing urbanization and landscape alteration over the past century, salamander breeding populations in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties have become heavily isolated from one another, thus highlighting health and posterity concerns for the species. These concerns led to the listing of the Santa Cruz long-toed salamanders as a fully protected endangered species under Federal and State regulations.

In 2003, nearly 50 years since it was first discovered, a graduate student from U.C. Davis, with the help of Elkhorn Slough staff and scientists, documented the presence of Santa Cruz long-toed salamanders in Lower Cattail Swale on Elkhorn Slough Reserve. This was an exciting discovery because at the time the species had only been found in two other locations north of the Elkhorn Slough system in Monterey County. Back then, both of these wetlands were unproductive because the surrounding landscapes were being used in large-scale agriculture, thus causing these salamander populations to decline.

In 2010, researchers made an exciting discovery of several Santa Cruz long-toed salamander larvae in a pond at the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Santa Cruz long-toed salamanders lay eggs singly or in small clusters. The eggs hatch into larvae, which is essentially the stage equivalent of a frog’s tadpoles. Sampling of Lower Cattail Swale, a pond located on the Reserve, quickly found 6 salamander larvae, making it likely that were are many more larvae in the 2 acre pond. Read the press release…

In 2011, researchers at the Elkhorn Slough once again found evidence that Santa Cruz long-toed salamanders were breeding in Cattail Swale.  This is the second year in a row that the endangered salamander has been found breeding on the Reserve since ESF and ESNERR completed work to improve the salamander’s breeding grounds. Read the press release…

In 2013 we completed the first amphibian surveys of the new wetlands that were created at the Triple M Ranch. The Elkhorn Slough Foundation holds the conservation easement for this property. The Reserve’s Freshwater Ecologist, Nina D’Amore, worked closely with the team creating the new ponds and ESF help to fund the project. Triple M Ranch had one breeding pond for federally and state endangered SC Long-toed salamanders, one known sighting of a juvenile California tiger salamander and a sparse California red-legged frog presence. The project put in a number of different ponds designed to accommodate the needs of these three species…and we are very excited to report that we found substantial numbers of SC Long-toed salamanders in two of the new ponds on the property. This brings the number of breeding sites in Monterey County up from a previous total of 5 to 7! Photos of the larva are below.

Thankfully, the breeding population in Elkhorn Slough Reserve is protected by the surrounding lands managed by the Elkhorn Slough Foundation, which makes the Reserve an invaluable home for this special animal. In 2007 ESF purchased property near the Reserve and fallowed the steeply sloping land.  This restoration has helped protect the soil, reduced erosion, and improved water quality downstream.  In conjunction with ESF’s efforts, ESNERR’s stewardship team deepened Cattail Swale in 2009, which increased the area’s water retention and gave freshwater species a longer window of time in which to breed.

Cattail Swale is one of only 22 breeding ponds in the world used by the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander—these efforts are expected to have a tremendous impact on the species.  You can see Cattail Swale from Elkhorn Slough Reserve’s South Marsh Loop trail.

Protecting the Santa Cruz long-toed salamanders is not only important for conservation and ethical reasons, but also for the quality of our local environment. Amphibians such as the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander are sentinels of environmental and ecosystem health, thus protecting this rare species, and others like it, is essential.


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