Home | Amphibians | The Spotted Salamander, Ambystoma maculatum – Part II, Natural History

The Spotted Salamander, Ambystoma maculatum – Part II, Natural History

Spotted Salamander in terrarium

To read the first part of this article, click here.
Natural Diet
Adults consume a wide variety of prey – earthworms, millipedes, crickets, sow bugs, spiders, centipedes, termites and other invertebrates as well as smaller salamanders. The larvae prey upon zooplankton, dragonfly larvae and other aquatic insects, fairy shrimp, tadpoles, red-spotted newt larvae and each other.

Spotted salamanders produce toxic skin secretions but are none-the-less consumed by garter snakes and hog-nosed snakes. Introduced trout, bass, goldfish and other fishes prey upon the larvae and can decimate a population in a single season.

Adults migrate from terrestrial burrows to temporary ponds (vernal pools, swamps, ditches, sluggish streams) in the early spring. The migration is triggered by snow-melt or warm rains, with adults sometimes crossing snow to reach their breeding sites. Males arrive at the ponds 1-6 days before females. I have observed them breeding in Westchester County, NY in mid March, when the water is quite cold. Despite this, I found that food for the larvae, in the form of aquatic insects and fairy shrimp, was abundant.

Large mixed-sex groups form at the pond bottom during courtship. Males deposit a spermatophore (a sperm-filled, jelly-coated capsule) on the pond bottom. The females take this into their cloaca (reproductive opening) and fertilization occurs internally.

The eggs are laid in compact, jelly-covered masses that are attached to twigs, plants or sunken logs. Each mass contains 50-160 eggs. The sight of 20 or more large, brilliantly marked salamanders writhing together in as they vie for breeding rights is really something to see – please write in if you’d like information as to how you might observe this for yourself.

A species of green algae, Oophila amblystomatis, frequently colonizes the egg mass, apparently supplying oxygen to the embryos and utilizing the carbon dioxide that they produce. Larvae from algae-colonized egg masses hatch earlier and exhibit less mortality than do those from algae-free masses.

The adults return to their burrows after breeding. The terrestrial habitat may be 75 – 1,000 feet from the breeding pond.

The larvae hatch in 8-60 days, depending upon water temperature, and have external gills. Transformation to the adult form takes place over a period ranging from 6 weeks to 18 months. In NY, the larvae typically leave the breeding ponds by late July or August, after which the ponds usually dry up.

Adult spotted salamanders have lungs but rely largely upon cutaneous respiration (the absorption of oxygen through the skin). The skin must remain moist if this form of respiration is to be effective – they are therefore, limited to damp habitats and rarely appear above ground except after heavy rains. They and other salamanders depend upon protective tree cover, leaf litter and fallen logs to retain soil moisture, and rapidly disappear from degraded habitats.


You can read more about spotted salamander natural history and conservation at:
Of course, you can also order my salamander book from That Pet Place (see above) – Thanks!



  1. avatar

    I have a vernal pool on my property. Does anyone know of a person that I could contact to ask question about conservation and site preservation


    • avatar

      Hello Steve, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. Please post details and your questions here; I should be able to help.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    I have brought home a marble salamander and wanting to pute a spotted salamander into the same tank and wanting to know if they will harm one another.

    • avatar

      Hello Lina, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for your interest in our blog. It would not be a good idea. Spotted salamanders grow to more than twice the size of marbled salamanders; an adult would likely try to consume a marbled salamander.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    um it says here that they need to be kept moist. i live in a trailer park. i found and caught two, i kept one and my friend kept the other. but the places i found them in were very very dry. i found them under rocks in empty lots. we keep them in fish tanks filled with a soil mix that we got from her back yard, they seem happy in it. they really seem to prefer live bugs over dead ones (mom isnt too happy about having live bugs in the house) but they dont seem to like being mistde with water. and i was wondering also if they will still hybernat in the winter even tho our house is at about 67 to 70 degrees F

    • avatar

      Hello Taylor, Frank Indiviglio here.

      Thanks for bringing up this interesting point. They can tolerate some dryness; in extreme conditions they will even become dormant, often deep within rodent burrows. Droughts may cause deaths for those unable to escape. However, moist surroundings are best for captives (reduces risk of skin tearing, aids oxygen flow through skin, less stress on immune system, etc.) A shallow bowl of water should be available for bathing as well.

      Soil is fine assuming there’s no sharp stones etc that can injure the skin…they deal with such in the wild but this does not always translate well to captivity. Direct misting can stress some individuals, so better to just dampen the enclosure.

      Some will take non-living prey from tongs, but live food is the general rule.

      Those I’ve kept have remained active and feeding in winter even at 55 F; different populations may vary in this, but yours will likely not hibernate.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  4. avatar

    i aslo wanted to know if it was a good idea to have more than one spotted salamander in a 20 galon tank

    • avatar

      Hello Taylor, Frank Indiviglio here.

      A 20 gallon will work for 2 adults of either sex (females larger; they will not usually breed without a winter chill and a rain cycle). Best to provide several hiding spots… skin fungus often develops when salamanders huddle together in 1 retreat for long periods of time; possibly due to skin abrasions from the constant contact.

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  5. avatar

    I found a spotted salamander in the middle of West Kansas today. There are no rivers, ponds, or sources of water near. I picked it up and thought it would be neat to show the kids. When I looked it up realized that it was completely out of its habitat from what I read. It was 10am this am when I saw him curled up in a cow print. This is mostly sandy ground where I found him. Going to get food for him tomorrow and set him up in a 55 gallon aquarium. Any idea why he would be so far away from water?

    • avatar

      Hi Clint,

      They often do live far from water, and breed in temporary ponds rather than permanent lakes, etc. It was probably on route to its hibernation site

      Pleas let me know if you have any further questions, Frank

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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