San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide
Arboreal Salamander, by Bradford Hollingsworth.

Aneides lugubris
Arboreal Salamander


The name Aneides comes from Greek meaning shapeless, while lugubris comes from Latin meaning sorrowful, dark, or gloomy.


This is a relatively large salamander with adults reaching as big as 4 inches snout-vent length. This salamander is plain brown and sometimes has yellow spots. It is whitish below and unmarked. Juveniles are darker on the belly with a patchy network of light-blue spots, called iridiphores, on their back. It has a large, triangular head due to enlarged jaw muscles. Its toes have slightly enlarged, squarish tips. There are 13-15 costal grooves. The tail is prehensile and usually coiled when the salamander is at rest.

This species has no larval stage and the young are miniatures of the adult form.

Range and Habitat

The Arboreal Salamander occurs from sea level to almost 2,500 feet in elevation. It ranges from Humbolt County in northern California, southward along the Coastal Mountains, reaching northwestern Baja California. It's southern distribution ends below Ensenada. Isolated populations occur in the foothills of the central Sierra Nevada, south Farallon Island off the coast of San Francisco, many islands within San Francisco Bay, Catalina Island, and Isla Norte of Isla de los Coronados.

It is found in areas of thick chaparral, coastal oak forest, and wooded, riparian canyons. It is absent from areas receiving less than 10 inches of rain per year. They may often be found in cavities, or underneath the bark of oak trees. They can climb as high as 50 feet from the ground.

Natural History

The Arboreal Salamander is a fully terrestrial species and does not need to return to water to breed, but its distribution is restricted to moist habitats. It is unique among all of the North American salamanders in its arboreal activity. Climbing is facilitated by expanded toes and a prehensile tail. This salamander belongs to the family Plethodontidae or Lungless Salamanders. It lacks lungs and respires completely through its skin.

This salamander belongs to the family Plethodontidae or Lungless Salamanders. It lacks lungs and respires completely through its skin. Therefore, it needs moist habitats to allow the skin to 'breath'.

Behavior: They are nocturnal and active during periods of precipitation from fall to spring. During the day, these salamanders remain hidden in moist microhabitats. They are inactive during the summer months and usually retreat into tree cavities.

Diet: This salamander is a sit and wait predator. During the rainy season, it will emerge from cover and ambush passing prey. Prey items include beetles, caterpillars, sow bugs, centipedes, ants, and occasionally Slender Salamanders.

Breeding: Mating takes place during the spring and eggs are laid during June and July. Most nests have been found in tree holes with the eggs suspended from overhangs within the tree cavities. Females have been found guarding their eggs. Hatching occurs in the late summer to fall.

Voice: This species may squeak when caught.

Conservation Status

There have been no proposed conservation plans.

Suggested Reading

Petranka, James W. 1998. Salamanders of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution.

Text by Bradford Hollingsworth and Kathy Roberts
Photo credit: Bradford Hollingsworth

Field Guide: Reptiles and Amphibians | Field Guide Feedback Form