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Spotted Salamander

Scientific name: Ambystoma maculatum

This reclusive salamander’s name is true to its appearance. Known as a mole salamander, it spends much of the year underground! It emerges to breed in the spring and travels to the same vernal pool every year. A vernal pool is a small body of water that exists only in spring and dries up for the rest of the year. It is an important habitat because it doesn’t contain fish or other predators that can eat the eggs of this and other amphibians. This salamander is listed as a species of special concern by New York State as its number have been diminishing due to habitat loss and water pollution. It is exquisitely sensitive to the pH of the water and too much acidity destroys the aquatic ecosystem.

On rainy nights in late winter or in early spring when the temperature reaches 50 degrees , thousands of salamanders travel back to their natal pools. They will stay there for up to several weeks.  See the video below for more fascinating information !

Photo Credit: Dave Taft
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As larvae, they eat insects and other aquatic invertebrates. Adults catch and eat what they can find on the forest floor, including worms, snails, and many kinds of insects.


They often live in forests close to stagnant water such as wetlands, ponds and vernal pools. They find shelter in leaves, under logs or in burrows near or in water.

Life Cycle

Spotted salamanders have been known to live up to 32 years, and normally return to the same vernal pool every year. These pools are seasonal and will usually dry up during the late spring and stay dry until winter, when snow and water accumulate in the depressions.

Eggs are laid in the vernal pool and they pass through various stages: egg, larva, juvenile and adult. Larvae will die if the vernal pool dries up before they mature into having lungs to breathe.  Once their lungs and legs develop, the juveniles become land dwelling.

Ecosystem Connections

They are eaten by skunks, raccoons, snakes and more!

Human Connections

Another cause of salamander mortality is that roads are sometimes built between the area where the salamander spends most of the year and the vernal pool where they go to mate and give birth. Sometimes, underground culverts are built to allow these and other wildlife to safely cross roads in order to traverse back and forth to their breeding grounds.

Fun Facts

The developing larvae can sense how soon the vernal pool will dry and can hasten or slow their development to increase their chances of survival! They also can regenerate lost body parts. Watch the video for more details.

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