Marbled Salamander
Ambystoma opacum

Common Name:

Marbled Salamander

Scientific Name:

Ambystoma opacum



Amby is Greek for "a cup", stoma is Greek for "a mouth"


opacum is Latin for "shaded" or "dull".

Average Length:

3.5 - 4.3 in. (9 - 10.7 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

Record length:

5 in. (12.7 cm)

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This species is a deep lustrous black, with brownish tinges on the underside of the head and in the legs and toes. Above they are marked with 4-7 silvery-gray (female) or white (male) cross bands that are narrow dorsally and widened on the upper sides, where they sometimes unite to endclose a series of large, fairly regular black spots which extend along the mid-line of the trunk. Costal grooves usually number 11. The length is up to 120mm *1009*.

REPRODUCTION: The adults migrate to breeding ground in the fall and deposit eggs on the land *1009*. The females actively select nesting sites along elevated gradients in temporary pools. There is a directed or nonrandom placement of nests within an area of suitable habitat. During the fall adults move to low lying areas in bottomlands where courtship and mating ensues *960*. Fertilization is internal by means of spermatophores. Courtship is brief, initiated by the male *1009*. After mating, each female selects a site with a zone of temporary pool formation or at the edge of a reduced pond, and constructs a shallow nest in which a single clutch of eggs is deposited *960*. Ordinarily nests are constructed singly although communal nesting groups with as many a 7 females have been reported *910*. The embryos develop to an advanced stage within the jelly coats, but hatching does not occur until the eggs are inundated by water *960*. The clutch site varies from 60-200 in number, and the clutch is attended by the female. The length of incubation varies, and the eggs usually hatch in the fall but may carry over to spring in the absence of rain *1009*.

BEHAVIOR: This species is found in drier situations than are suitable for most species of Ambystoma. They are abundant in sand and gravelly areas and in the low grounds bordering ponds and slow streams *1009*. During the day they remain motionless and well hidden. Nocturnal activity consists of capturing prey items *915*. The nesting site is usually within a zone of temporary pool formation or at the edge of a reduced pond *960*. They nest in leaf litter, debris and humus *945*. The female lays eggs in small depression in the soil beneath leaves or logs. The eggs are guarded by females and hatch after autumn rains inundate the nest sites forming temporary pools *945*. Terrestrial juveniles rest under logs, stones *1008* rocks, boards, and debris in fairly shaded situations *865*. They are also found in runways of small mammals *949*. They hibernate in deep subterranean burrows *949*. The adults are usually subterranean, except during the fall breeding season *949*.

ORIGIN: This species is native *1022*.

POPULATION PARAMETERS: There is significant mortality of eggs due to pool drying *910,937*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: This species is associated by Ambystoma tigrinum in aquatic setting and Ambystoma opacum, Quercus sp., and Carya sp. in terrestrial settings *915*.

References for Life History

  • 865 - Bishop, S.C., 1941, The salamanders of New York, New York State Mus. Bull., Vol. 324, pg. 1-365
  • 910 - Graham, R.E., 1971, Environmental effects on deme structure, dynamics, and breeding strategy of Ambystoma opacum (Amphibia: Ambystomatidae), with an hypothesis of the probable origin of the marbled salamander life-style, Ph.D. Diss., Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, N.J., UNPB
  • 915 - Hassinger, D.D., Anderson, J.D., Dalrymple, G.H., 1970, The early life history and ecology of Ambystoma tigrinum and Ambystoma opacum in New Jersey, Am. Midl. Nat., Vol. 84, pg. 474-495
  • 937 - King, W., 1935, Ecological observation on Ambystoma opacum, Ohio J. Sci., Vol. 35, pg. 4-15
  • 945 - Martof, B.S., 1955, Observations on the life history and ecology of the amphibians of the Athens area, Georgia, Copeia, Vol. 1955, pg. 166-170
  • 949 - Minton, S.A., 1972, Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana, Indiana Academy of Science Monograph, Vol. 3, 346 pgs., Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis
  • 960 - Petranka, J.W., Petranka, J.G., 1981, On the evolution of nest site selection in the marbled salamander, Ambystoma opacum, Copeia, Vol. 1981, pg. 387-391
  • 1008 - Barbour, R.W., 1971, Amphibians and reptiles of Kentucky, 334 pgs., Univ. of Kentucky Press, Lexington, KY
  • 1009 - Bishop, S.C., 1943, Handbook of Salamanders, 555 pgs., Comstock Publ. Co., New York, NY


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