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Oregon Ensatina

Ensatina eschscholtzii oregonensis

Family: Plethodontidae

The Oregon Ensatina is a subspecies of the Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii).

COSEWIC status:
  • Not at Risk
SARA status:
  • No Status
IUCN status:
  • Least Concern


The Oregon Ensatina has a short body and can reach 14.5 cm in total length. In Canada this salamander is uniformly brown to pinkish in colouration and the sides may have light yellow or brown flecking. The belly is pinkish and is covered with dark speckles. This species has 12–13 costal grooves, long legs and a prominent constriction at the base of the tail.

Similar Species

The Ensatina may be confused with the Northwestern Salamander, Wandering Salamander or melanistic Western Red-backed Salamanders. All of these species lack a constriction at the base of the tail. The Northwestern Salamander does not have nasolabial groves, is larger and has distinct parotid glands behind the eyes, which the Ensatina lacks. Melanistic Red-backed Salamanders have legs that are much smaller in proportion to their body. Wandering Salamanders have light grey, bronze or gold mottling or speckles on the back, and the toes are long (except the innermost toe on the hind feet) and have squared ends.


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The Oregon Ensatina occurs along the West Coast in southern B.C., including Vancouver Island. Its distribution extends south into the United States along the coast as far south as central California.


The Ensatina inhabits a variety of terrestrial habitats, but is primarily found in forests. This species requires moist environments and is most common in areas with abundant woody debris and leaf litter. This species is fully terrestrial and the eggs are deposited under logs, in rotting stumps or in other moist environments on the forest floor. Individuals overwinter below the frost line in talus slopes, mammal burrows, root hollows or other underground cavities.


Plethodontid salamanders, including the Ensatina, are also known as lungless salamanders because they do not have lungs; instead, they absorb oxygen directly through their skin. They must remain moist at all times so that oxygen and carbon dioxide can diffuse through the skin. Ensatinas breed in the fall and early spring and females lay 3–25 (usually 8–10) eggs in the spring. The female guards the eggs until they hatch after three to five months later in late August or September. There is no larval stage; the gills are absorbed around the time of hatching and the hatchlings are a miniature version of the terrestrial adults. Individuals reach sexual maturity in three to four years and females only breed every two years in Canada. Individuals can live up to 15 years. Ensatinas are most active during wet weather and forage on the forest floor for insects, spiders, worms and other arthropods. When threatened, individuals excrete poison from glands on the top of the tail and arch their tail toward the threat. If captured they may autotomize (drop) their tail, which creates a diversion while the salamander escapes. Although the tail will grow back over time, the individual will have lost much of the fat reserves on which it relies to survive the winter.


Habitat loss, largely from logging and urban development, is the primary threat to this species in Canada. Pollution, such as herbicides, agricultural effluent and road salt can be detrimental to salamanders since toxins are easily absorbed though their skin. Climate change and introduced pathogens pose potentially serious future threats to Canadian salamanders.

Additional Information About This Species In Canada