March 30, 2004 - California Tiger Salamander
What’s black and yellow and slimy all over? Give up? It’s thiAs month’s Endangered Species of the Month, the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense). The California tiger salamander (CTS, as it’s called) (hey- we don’t make this stuff up) is a Federally listed endangered species, only in Santa Barbara and Sonoma Counties. It is considered by the State of California to be a “Species of Special Concern”. The CTS is found in California’s Central Valley, adjacent foothills and coastal grasslands. These areas share a Mediterranean climate of mostly cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Sound familiar? That includes the oak grasslands and vernal pools of Santa Barbara County. The little creature has stopped or sidetracked many development projects here.
The CTS has an interesting life cycle. Not one to demand the spotlight, they are very shy and are rarely seen except during their nocturnal breeding migrations that begin on romantic rainy nights in early winter. On these occasions, the adults meet-up at breeding sites, typically vernal pools and swales; unique ecosystems that fill with winter rains and dry completely by summer. Females lay between 400 and 1300 eggs. The dedicated staff is not sure how much Trader Joe’s would sell a dozen Tiger Salamander eggs for, but we are sure it would take a lot to make a good omelet.
The eggs hatch into larvae that feed on algae, mosquito larvae, and small crustaceans. At about 6 weeks, they switch to bigger prey such as insects and small tadpoles. Pacific tree frog and endangered California red-legged frog tadpoles are their favorite. Sometimes it is hard to choose sides in the survival of the fittest game. When young CTS leave home and go away to college, they often settle up to two miles from their breeding ponds.
Many California tiger salamanders usually do not breed until they are 6 years old. More precocious ones (those who are raised watching R rated movies and listening to Rap music) mate as young as 4. Breeding is pretty much just dirty pond talk for the CTS because for most it is a once in a lifetime experience. In very dry years, breeding may not take place at all. When not breeding, CTS spend their time in a dormant state underground in valley oak woodland or grassland habitats adjacent to the breeding ponds, primarily in abandoned rodent burrows.
Despite the fact that CTS don’t get out much, Biologists have concluded that several hundred acres of uplands habitat is needed in order for the species to survive in the long-term. There needs to be a breeding pond, too.
So, therein lies the problem, well actually problems. First of all, Ranchers and farmers sometimes pump water from the water table to use for irrigation. They also sometimes poison burrowing critters, such as gophers and ground squirrels so that their cattle won’t break legs in the holes that are left behind. And secondly, people keep moving to California and demanding a place to live. There just isn’t that many several hundred acres of uplands habit left.
Many contestants (23) in yesterday’s contest correctly identified the CTS. Some only said tiger salamander, some only salamander. Close but no cigar. Some said frog, not close and no cigar. A random drawing chose Erinmuladore as the winner.
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