Arboreal Salamander

Arboreal Salamander Source: Getty Images datmore

Arboreal Salamander

Aneides lugubris

Status: Not Listed

Classification: Amphibian


As their name implies, arboreal salamanders are excellent tree climbers. The amphibian’s large toes and prehensile tail aid it in climbing up to 60 feet above the ground. They have large, triangular heads and thick bodies, which can reach seven inches (18 centimeters) in length, including the tail. The arboreal salamander’s back is dark brown or gray, usually with yellow or white spots, and its underside has a cream coloration.


Arboreal salamanders live in the United States along the coast of California, from Humboldt County to the northern part of the Baja Peninsula. An inland population occurs in the Sierra Nevada foothills. They live in coastal oak woodlands and yellow pine and black oak forests. Arboreal salamanders have no lungs, so they breathe through their skin and membranes in their mouths and throats. For this reason, they are restricted to areas with plenty of moisture. Much of their time is spent under leaf litter on the forest floor, but they retreat to tree cavities in the summer to wait out the dry weather. Snakes and birds are common predators.


An arboreal salamander eats insects and terrestrial invertebrates, which it finds on the forest floor at night during wet weather. It catches its prey on its tongue and crushes it with powerful jaws and sharp teeth. An arboreal salamander may even eat another salamander if it’s small enough.


These amphibians use several defense mechanisms to avoid becoming dinner for jays and Pacific rattlesnakes. When disturbed, they exhibit a defensive stance, squeak, jump, and attempt to flee. If necessary, they use their teeth to inflict a wound on their attacker. While their bite is too small to do significant damage on large animals, the open gash can become infected and prove fatal.

Life History

Arboreal salamanders breed in late spring to early summer. A female lays about 12 to 24 eggs at a time, usually in a moist log or tree cavity. The female broods the eggs, which hatch within three to four months. Unlike some other amphibians, these salamanders don’t undergo a larval stage. Newly hatched arboreal salamanders look just like miniature adults. On average, an arboreal salamander lives about five years.


The arboreal salamander’s population is stable. Like many amphibians, the greatest threats to arboreal salamanders are habitat loss and pollution.

5 Fun Facts

1. Arboreal salamanders belong to the family Plethodontidae, meaning “many teeth.”

2. In the dry season, somearboreal salamanders retreat to rodent burrows to stay moist.

3. When space and moisture is limited, arboreal salamanders come together in groups of a dozenor more.

4. Arboreal salamanders are nocturnal.

5. A subspecies of arboreal salamander the Farallon arboreal salamander lives only on California's South Farallon Islands.


Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

California Herps

NatureServe Explorer

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Get Involved

Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

Learn More
Regional Centers and Affiliates