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The Outdoors Digest | FIELD GUIDE

Pacific giant salamander

February 10, 2004|David Lukas

Pacific Giant Salamander

[ DICAMPTODON TENEBROSUS ]

The most abundant vertebrate predator in many coastal streams of Northern California hides by day in deep pools or in the cobbles of rushing rapids, emerging at night to feast on small invertebrates. The stolid Pacific giant salamander is so inscrutable that biologists who study it know little about its life history. No one has observed the animal's courtship behavior, and only a couple of nests have been found. But the biggest mystery is this: Why do so many aquatic larvae reach adult size, and breed, without transforming into terrestrial adults? In fact, the massive terrestrial adults -- 12 inches long, one of the largest salamanders in the world -- are quite rare.

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NATURAL HISTORY

Females apparently lay their eggs in May and guard them in underwater nest chambers until they hatch in December or January, and the inch-long larvae strike out on their own. This remarkable incubation period is perhaps the longest of any salamander.

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KEY CHARACTERISTICS

Larvae are marbled brown, with bushy red gills protruding from sides of the head. Adults are stout and unmistakable for any other species because of their size.

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