This is a moderately large salamander (to about 80 mm snout-vent length; 130 total length) with long limbs, very long, slender digits, and a moderately long, prehensile tail. There are 14-16 (usually 15) costal grooves, and the limbs touch or overlap when appressed to the trunk. The digits have expanded tips bearing a well developed subterminal pad. The tail is circular in cross section, and is strongly tapered to a blunt tip. The ground color of adults is dark brown or gray with irregular mottling or marbling of lighter gray.
Distribution and Habitat
Country distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: Canada, United States
U.S. state distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: California
Canadian province distribution from AmphibiaWeb's database: British Columbia
Wandering Salamanders (Aneides vagrans) have an unusual distribution. They are found in the coastal forests of northern California and in British Columbia. They are not found in either Oregon or Washington (Jackman 1999(1998)). The distribution of Wandering Salamanders in California extends from northern Siskiyou and Del Norte Counties, south through extreme western Trinity, Humboldt, and Mendocino Counties in an increasingly narrow coastal strip to the vicinity of Stewart's Point, northwestern Sonoma County. In British Columbia, Wandering Salamanders are widespread on Vancouver Island and on neighboring islands, and occur in a small area of mainland British Columbia (Green and Campbell 1984). Jackman (1999(1998)) argues that the British Columbia populations are derived from human-mediated introductions from California, possibly during the mid to late nineteenth century. In particular, genetic and historical evidence suggests that Wandering Salamanders were introduced to British Columbia from California in shipments of tan oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus) bark, used extensively in the tanning of leather at that time (Jackman 1999(1998)).
The California populations now assigned to A. vagrans were previously considered to be A. ferreus (Clouded Salamander) but have been reassigned based on allozyme, mitochondrial DNA, and karyotypic evidence (Sessions and Kezer 1987; Jackman 1999(1998), Wake and Jackman 1999 (1998)). Nearly all of the literature dealing with A. ferreus from California and British Columbia refers instead to A. vagrans.
The species is abundant locally, but can be difficult to find if surface habitat is limited. Studies of salamander abundance in different forest types and stages in Oregon and northwestern California (includes both A. ferreus and A. vagrans), show that this species has higher densities in older forests (Welsh and Lind 1991). In British Columbia, the Wandering Salamander is found in microhabitats typical of the Clouded Salamander—in cavities of decaying logs and stumps or beneath loose bark (Stelmock and Harestad 1979). In contrast to studies on the Clouded Salamander which showed that logging is detrimental to salamander abundance (Corn and Bury 1991; Butts and McComb 2000), forest harvesting did not appear to have long-term effects on the abundance of Wandering Salamanders (Stelmock and Harestad 1979). Stelmock and Harestad (1979) found that in British Columbia, old-growth forest and regenerating conifer seral stages were equally favorable habitats for the Wandering Salamander, although their sample sizes of collected salamanders were small. Whether the persistence of the Wandering Salamander in logged areas in British Columbia reflects a difference in moisture regimes between the habitats, a difference in logging practices and the amount of coarse woody debris left behind, an artifact of small sample sizes, or a difference in salamander biology, has not been determined.
Habitat Requirements: Juvenile. Brown (1948) found three juveniles (presumably A. vagrans) under bark on a log. If habitat selection preferences are similar to the Clouded Salamander’s preferences, then juveniles prefer bark litter over rock or leaf litter and subadults prefer bark litter at higher temperatures (20C, 25C), and show no preference between rock or bark litter at lower temperatures (10C, McKenzie and Storm 1970).
Habitat Requirements: Adult. Adults are found associated with stumps and logs in Douglas fir forests (Welsh and Lind 1988; Welsh and Lind 1991), under rocks (Brown 1948; Jackman 1999(1998)), under redwood slabs in redwood forests (Storer 1925), and in the forest canopy (Jim C. Spickler, personal communication). Wood (1939) found that adults have a tendency to be in, but not under, rotten logs. Bury and Martin (1973) found the Wandering Salamander associated with decaying stumps and logs in edge and open habitat (e.g., abandoned pastures, logging platforms in forest clearings), secondary forests, and in redwood forests. In coastal areas, Welsh and Lind (1988) captured more A. ferreus or A. vagrans in slightly younger than older forests, but in inland forests, the opposite trend was evident. They suggest the differences are due to differences in moisture regimes between the different sites. In general, A. ferreus or A. vagrans were found in the more mesic habitats. Recent work suggests that the Wandering Salamander inhabits the canopy of old-growth redwood forests year-round (Jim C. Spickler, personal communication). In the canopy, salamanders have been found in humus accumulations in trunk crotches and on limbs, under bark, and in cracked and rotting wood of broken limbs and trunks. They have been found up to 87m and at some sites the canopy salamanders can be quite abundant (Jim C. Spickler, personal communication).
Jackman (1999 (1998)) suggests that there may be a difference in habitat preference between Clouded and Wandering Salamanders–-in northwestern California Clouded Salamanders are commonly found associated with both decaying logs and rocky slopes, while Wandering Salamanders are almost exclusively found associated with decaying logs, not rocks.
Life History, Abundance, Activity, and Special Behaviors
Age/Size at Reproductive Maturity. Based on follicle size, Stelmock and Harestad (1979) suggest that females greater than 50mm SVL are sexually mature. This is slightly smaller than the data from McKenzie (1970) on the Clouded Salamander that suggest that females first reproduce in their third year, when they are approximately 55 mm SVL. McKenzie (1970) estimated that male Clouded Salamanders mature during their second year, at lengths greater than 36 mm SVL.
Oviposition is thought to occur in spring or early summer in British Columbia (Stelmock and Harested 1979). Egg clutches have been found under the bark of a rotting Douglas fir log (Wood 1939; Dunn 1942) and at the base of a tree limb 30 - 40 m above the forest floor (Welsh and Wilson 1995). Reported clutch sizes vary from 6-9 eggs (Dunn 1942; Welsh and Wilson 1995). The average for the ovarian complement of eggs is 18, (range 14-26, Stelmock and Harestad 1979). Clutches have been found without a parent in attendance (A. ferreus, Storm 1947), with a female in attendance (A. vagrans, Dunn 1942), and with both a male and a female in attendance (A. ferreus, Storm 1947).
Abundance. Populations of the Clouded Salamander associated with post-logged areas eventually decline, and Corn and Bury (1991) doubt that it can survive in areas where forests are intensively managed on short rotation cycles because of the severe reduction in moisture conditions and in the amount of large woody debris. Presumably this reasoning holds true for the Wandering Salamander as well (although see Historical and Current Distribution). Ironically, the Wandering Salamander now has a much wider distribution than in the past as a result of its introduction into coastal British Columbia, where it apparently rapidly expanded its range so that it now occurs widely on Vancouver Island and many neighboring islands, and has been found on the mainland (Green and Campbell 1984.)
Feeding Behavior. As with most salamanders, the Wandering Salamander is a generalist feeder. In California, the Wandering Salamander’s diverse diet consisted primarily of hymenopterans (ants), coleopteran adults and larvae, isopods, and collembolans (Bury and Martin 1973). In a population in British Columbia, hymenoptera (ants), coleopterans, and gastropods were significant prey items in terms of both frequency and prey volume (Stelmock and Harestad 1979). Acarinians (mites) and collembolans had a high frequency of occurrence but their contribution to total prey volume was slight (Stelmock and Harestad 1979). Juveniles eat smaller prey than do adults (Stelmock and Harestad 1979).
Predators. Poorly documented, but Petranka (1998) suggests predators of Aneides sp. include mammals, woodland birds, and snakes.
Anti-Predator Mechanisms. Several anti-predatory behaviors have been observed in the Clouded or Wandering Salamander when individuals are startled or attacked: immobility, a defensive posture (raising the body and undulating the tail), and flipping around followed by immobility (Brodie 1977). Skin secretions are thought to be noxious (Brodie 1977).
Parasites. Infestation rates of the nematode Thelandros salamandrae are greater than 50% in the Wandering Salamander (Stelmock and Harestad 1979). These nematodes infect the large intestine. There was no difference in infection rate between males and females. Small animals (< 30mm SVL) had no parasites (Stelmock and Harestad 1979).
Trends and Threats
The greatest threat to the species is habitat modification from logging, although it persists well in cut-over areas if sufficient woody debris remains. Populations have certainly been lost due to both forestry management practices and to urban sprawl.
Relation to Humans
This species has successfully occupied many islands in Canada as well as the mainland and appears to do well in the vicinity of humans so long as suitable seminatural habitat (forests and logs) persists.
Possible reasons for amphibian decline
General habitat alteration and loss
Habitat modification from deforestation, or logging related activities
Interspecific Associations/Exclusions. Clouded and Wandering Salamanders overlap in a zone < 15 km wide in northwestern California. Jackman (1999 (1998)) reports evidence of introgression, but clear hybrid individuals have not been found. Mitochondrial, allozyme, and karyotypic data distinguish the Clouded from the Wandering Salamander (Sessions and Kezer 1987; Wake and Jackman 1999(1998)). In California, the range of the Wandering Salamander also overlaps with its congeners the Arboreal Salamander (A. lugubris) and the Black Salamander (A. flavipunctatus) (Stebbins 1985; Wake and Jackman 1999(1998)).
Two albino specimens, from two different egg clutches of the Wandering Salamander, were found in Humboldt County, California (Houck 1969).
Aneides vagrans climbing a tree, 91 meters above the ground, in Bull Creek Grant, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.
Run time: 3:44.
Video submitted by: A. Ambrose and S. Sillett.
This species was featured as News of the Week on 20 June 2022:
Many amphibians are known to be arboreal, living in trees. Controlled aerial descent by parachuting (i.e., manipulating falling speed) or gliding (i.e., generating a horizontal component of locomotion while descending) is common among arboreal animals, yet until recently, had been unexplored in salamanders. Brown et al. (2022) documented controlled aerial descent in the highly arboreal Aneides vagrans, which lives in the canopies of the tallest trees on Earth, as well as in three other related species representing a continuum of arboreality: A. lugubris (most arboreal after A. vagrans), A. flavipunctatus, and Ensatina eschscholtzii (least arboreal). The authors used a vertical wind tunnel to simulate aerial descent and motion capture techniques to characterize their behaviors. The more arboreal species (A. lugubris and A. vagrans) regularly demonstrated aerial control by adjusting body orientation, parachuting, and gliding. Alternatively, A. flavipunctatus and E. eschscholtzii rarely showed such control. This is the first instance in which salamanders have been demonstrated to perform such behaviors, which they do without specialized aerodynamic control surfaces like skin flaps. It is possible that the morphological features typically associated with arboreality, such as relatively flattened body, long limbs and digits, and large feet relative to body size, serve to enhance aerial control. Further investigation into such inconspicuous aerodynamic features may reveal similar adaptations in other arboreal taxa. See videos of salamanders in wind tunnels. (Written by Erik Sathe)
See another account at californiaherps.com.
Wake, D. and Jackman, T. (1999). ''Description of a new species of plethodontid salamander from California.'' Canadian Journal of Zoology, 76, 1579-1580.
Welsh, H.H., Jr. and Wilson, R.A. (1995). ''Aneides ferreus (Clouded Salamander) reproduction.'' Herpetological Review, 26, 196-197.
Originally submitted by: David B. Wake (first posted 2000-01-22)
Edited by: Kellie Whittaker, Michelle S. Koo (2022-06-19)
Species Account Citation: AmphibiaWeb 2022 Aneides vagrans: Wandering Salamander <https://amphibiaweb.org/species/5289> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed Oct 2, 2023.
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Citation: AmphibiaWeb. 2023. <https://amphibiaweb.org> University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA. Accessed 2 Oct 2023.
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