Mole Salamander
Ambystoma talpoideum

Common Name:

Mole Salamander

Scientific Name:

Ambystoma talpoideum



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


talp is Latin for "a mole", oideum is Greek and is the ending of animal super-family names.

Average Length:

3 - 4 in. (7.5 - 10 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

Record length:

4.8 in. (12.2 cm)

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier II - Very High Conservation Need - Has a high risk of extinction or extirpation. Populations of these species are at very low levels, facing real threat(s), or occur within a very limited distribution. Immediate management is needed for stabilization and recovery.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: This species has 10 costal grooves and the body is short and stout. It is deep brown above in a broad dorsal band, and lighter on the tail. Above, there are many small dull bluish-white flecks aggregated in lichen-like patches. The lower sides are gray with light markings forming blotches. The length is up to 97 mm *1009*. The head appears disproportionately large and is wides near the the corner of the mouth. The snout is broadly rounded. The eyes are smallish and black. The legs appear stout and large for the body, but the toes are not paticularly long. 10 or 11 costal grooves are present (counting one in the axillaand 2 in the groin) with 0 to -0.5 costalfolds between adpressed limbs. Slightly greater than 1/2 of the total length is tail (contrary to the less than 40% reported by Bishop, 1947). The tail is thick near the body, becoming compressed distally. Some of the bluish-white flecks combine into larger irregularly-shaped spots. The light markings increase in density laterally. The belly is paler blue-gray with less dense flecking. Sexual dimorphism is not reported except that in the breeding season, the vent of males is noticably swollen. Adult Mole salamanders somewhat resemble Mabee's salamander, but may be easily distinguished from them since Mabee's salamander has 13 costal grooves and a relatively smaller head. The larvae are of the pond type. Hatchlings vary from 4.5-8.0 mm SVL. Metamorphosis occurs at 55-70 mm total length in the Carolinas. In semi-permanent ponds some individuals mature prior to metamorphosis. All Virginian larvae have a dark median stripe ventrally. Larvae are blotched with black and cream or yellow. The head is mottled dorsally and has a dark stripe from the nostrils, through the eye, to the base of the gills. There is a light stripe below the dark eye stripe. Alternating light and dark blotches occur dorsally. The tail is mottled to spotted with light markings. The venter is pale usually with a midventral dark stripe. The dorsal fin arises just behind the head reaching the greatest width above the vent and continues to the tail tip. The ventral fin originates posterior the vent, continuing to the tip of the tail. The lateral body is mottled with brown; the dorsum with a broad brownish (dark) stripe broken into blotches *9286*.

REPRODUCTION: Adults migrate to water to breed in late fall or early winter and then return to land the following spring *1001,9286*. The breeding period is early December to mid-February. Courtship is not necessary for deposition of spermatophores or egg-laying *1003*. The eggs are layed individually or in small clusters. The clutch size varies from 226-668 and is correlated with age and body size *9286*. The eggs may be laid on any substrate in the breeding pond, but there is a preference for small twigs. The spermatophore differs from other Ambystomatids by possessing a long, thin stalk of lesser diameter than the sperm cap and by possessing a mid-dorsal fold running the length of the sperm cap. The males remain in the breeding pond throughout the breeding period in contrast to the females which depart from the pond soon after oviposition *1003*. The larvae hatch in early spring *1001*. The clutch size is from 10-41 eggs in small loose clusters attached to stems or other objects in shallow ponds *12*.

BEHAVIOR: The adults are terrestrial and fossorial *1001*, except during the breeding season. The adults are much given to burrowing and are only occasionally found beneath rotten wood in damp situations *1009*. After hatching, metamorphosis can occur at any time provided the individual has achieved a minimum size estimate of greater than 25mm snout-vent length. If the young remain in the water through the following fall, they mature sexually. Most larvae metamorphose 12-15 months after hatching, but a few remain permanently aquatic *1001*. Vertical migration and nocturnal stratification has been reported in the larvae. During the day the larvae remain hidden in leaf litter, vegetation, or debris on the bottom *1002*. They occupy underground burrows in pine savannas, hardwood forests, and swamps *1114*.

References for Life History

  • 1001 - Patterson, K.K., 1978, Life history aspects of paedogenic populations of the mole salamander, Ambystoma talpoideum, Copeia, Vol. 1978, pg. 649-655
  • 1002 - Anderson, J.D., Williamson, G.K., 1974, Nocturnal stratification in larvae of the mole salamanders Ambystoma talpoideum, Herpetologica, Vol. 30, pg. 28-29
  • 1003 - Shoop, C.R., 1960, The breeding habits of the mole salamander, Ambystoma talpoideum (Holbrook), in southeastern Louisiana, Tulane Stud. Zool., Vol. 8, pg. 65-82
  • 1009 - Bishop, S.C., 1943, Handbook of Salamanders, 555 pgs., Comstock Publ. Co., New York, NY
  • 1114 - Dobie, J., Meehean, O.L., Snieszko, S.F., Washburn, G.N., 1956, Raising bait fishes, Circ. 35, 124 pgs., U. S. Fish Wildl. Serv., Washington, D. C.
  • 9286 - Terwilliger, K.T., 1991, Virginia's endangered species: Proceedings of a symposium. Coordinated by the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries, Nongame and Endangered Species Program, 672 pp. pgs., McDonald and Woodward Publ. Comp., Blacksburg, VA


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