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Wandering Salamander

Aneides vagrans

Family: Plethodontidae

COSEWIC status:
  • Special Concern
SARA status:
  • Special Concern
IUCN status:
  • Near Threatened


The Wandering Salamander has a relatively slender body and can reach 13 cm in total length. Individuals are dark brown to dark grey with light grey, bronze or gold mottling or speckles, and the belly is grey with light flecking. Juveniles have a bronze dorsal stripe that fades with age. Wandering Salamanders have 14 to 16 (usually 15) costal groves and long limbs. The innermost toe on each foot is short and the rest of the toes are long, and the toes have squared ends.

Similar Species

The Wandering Salamander may be confused with the Northwestern Salamander, Ensatina or Blotched Tiger Salamander. The Northwestern Salamander is larger and heavier-bodied, has distinct parotid glands behind the eyes, lacks nasolabial grooves, and typically lacks patterning. The Ensatina has a distinct constriction at the base and light flecking along the sides but otherwise lacks patterning. Tiger Salamanders are larger and heavier-bodied, lack nasolabial grooves, have a laterally compressed tail and the patterning consists of very large blotches and bars rather than mottling and speckles.


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In Canada, the Wandering Salamander occurs along the West Coast in southwestern B.C., on Vancouver Island and on some of the gulf islands. This species Canadian distribution is disjunct from populations in the United States, which are limited to northwestern California. It is possible that the Wandering Salamander is native to northern California and was introduced in Canada in the late nineteenth century.


The Wandering Salamander inhabits Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock forests in low elevation coastal areas. This species requires moist environments and is most common in areas with abundant woody debris and leaf litter. Wandering Salamanders are agile climber and can often be found living in trees. This species is fully terrestrial and the eggs are deposited under logs, in rotting stumps or along the branches of trees. Individuals overwinter below the frost line in talus slopes, mammal burrows, root hollows or other underground cavities.


Plethodontid salamanders, including the Wandering Salamander, 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. Wandering Salamanders breed in the early spring and females lay 3–28 eggs in the late spring or early summer. The eggs hang individually from stalks that are attached to the roof of the nest chamber. The female guards the eggs until they hatch after about three 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. Females reach sexual maturity in their third year while males mature in their second year, and females only reproduce every second year. Individuals can live up to 20 years. Wandering Salamanders are most active during wet weather and forage on the forest floor or in trees for insects, spiders, worms and other arthropods. When threatened, individuals excrete poison from glands on the top of the tail.


Logging of coastal forests has destroyed a significant amount of this species’ habitat in Canada and is the primary threat to the Wandering Salamander in Canada. Habitat loss from urban development is also negatively affecting some Canadian populations. Pollution, such as herbicides 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