Jefferson Salamander
Ambystoma jeffersonianum

Common Name:

Jefferson Salamander

Scientific Name:

Ambystoma jeffersonianum



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


jeffersonianum is in honor of Jefferson College in Canonsburg, PA and indirectly for the naturalist/President Thomas Jefferson.

Average Length:

4.3 - 7 in. (10.7 - 18 cm)

Virginia Record Length:

Record length:

8.3 in. (21 cm)

Virginia Wildlife Action Plan Rating Tier IV - Moderate Conservation Need - The species may be rare in parts of its range, particularly on the periphery. Populations of these species have demonstrated a significant declining trend or one is suspected which, if continued, is likely to qualify this species for a higher tier in the foreseeable future. Long-term planning is necessary to stabilize or increase populations.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: The body is comparatively long and moderately slender. Above, they are dark brown to almost black, with pale blue flecks on the lower sides. The old adults sometimes have the blue spots lacking. here are usually 12 costal grooves. The toes are long and slender. The length of this species is up to 185 mm *1009*. Mature males are large, long-legged, broad snouted, and light-colored. The females are gray to gray-brown with fine bluish flecks *985*.

REPRODUCTION: Courtship behavior has shown that this species departs radically from the typical Ambystomid pattern, engaging in a type of amplexus *940*. They naturally breed in vernal or transient pools and mating and egg-laying may be completed in a few nights to a week. The onset of breeding activity is assumed to be triggered by the first early warm spring rains or other conditions of high humidity and temperatures above freezing *978*. It is probable that photoperiod is also a factor *995*. Upon receiving the right stimuli, they migrate from their woodland locations to breeding pools *978*. In March or early April the adults migrate to breeding ponds for egg-laying. Fertilization is internal by means of spermatophores. The male sometimes embraces the female, his foreleg behind hers. The females usually outnumber the males and often bid for attention during the mating season. The eggs are in small cylindrical masses containing on the average about 16, and are attached to slender twigs or other support below the surface of quiet pools or ponds. The number per mass varies from 7-40 and several masses complete the complement, which may total over 200 eggs. The incubation period varies from 30-45 days *1009*.

BEHAVIOR: They occupy mixed and deciduous woods with swamps, pools, and slow streams. They are often extremely abundant on river flats, where they hide by day beneath old logs, bark, or other surface cover *1009*. Portions of living and dead plants are important in providing refuge to breeding adults and developing larvae *995,977,988*. There is a need for egg mass attachment *995, 988,865*. The egg masses are generally concentrated around the outer perimeter in sunny locations of breeding pools and attached to vegetation or other plant debris *978*. This species exhibits defensive behavior where it raises its hindquarters, holds its tail vertically, and waves the tail from side to side while keeping its head and forebody near the ground *964*. During the defensive display, the tail exudes a sticky white substance. Apparently it does not release gland contents from different portions of the body independently *872*. The eggs are laid in seasonal ponds, field ponds and sinkholes *3914*. By day, they rest under leaves and other submerged objects in breeding ponds *949*. At night, aquatic juveniles migrate upward in ponds and remain suspended in the stratum near the surface, where they feed *2936*. Aquatic-stage juvenile rest under debris on the pond bottom *949*; land-stage juvenile or sub-adults rest beneath ground debris (old logs, leaves, etc.) *867*. They are often abundant on river flats *867*.

ORIGIN: This species is native *3913*. Population parameters: There is high larval and/or juvenile mortality and low recruitment. A typical breeding pool hatches numerous animals that may prey on the eggs and/or larvae, but the pool usually has sufficient cover for many larvae to survive *978*.

AQUATIC/TERRESTRIAL ASSOCIATIONS: This species is associated with Ambystoma maculatum, Notophthalmus v. viridescens, Eurycea longicauda longicauda and Sarsostraca sp. *3914,949,2936*.

References for Life History

  • 865 - Bishop, S.C., 1941, The salamanders of New York, New York State Mus. Bull., Vol. 324, pg. 1-365
  • 867 - Bishop, S.C., 1947, Handbook of Salamanders, 555 pgs., Comstock Publ. Co., Ithaca, N.Y
  • 872 - Brodie, E.D., Jr., S. Gibson, 1969, Defensive behavior and skin glands of the northwestern salamander, Ambystoma gracile, Herpetologica, Vol. 25, pg. 187-194
  • 940 - Kumpf, K.F., Yeaton, S.C., 1932, Observation on the courtship behavior of Ambystoma jeffersonianum, Am. Mus. Novit., Num. 546, 7 pgs.
  • 949 - Minton, S.A., 1972, Amphibians and Reptiles of Indiana, Indiana Academy of Science Monograph, Vol. 3, 346 pgs., Indiana Academy of Science, Indianapolis
  • 964 - Rand, A.S., 1954, Defense display in the salamander Ambystoma jeffersonianum, Copeia, Vol. 1954, pg. 223-224
  • 977 - Stille, W.T., 1954, Eggs of the salamander Ambystoma jeffersonianum in the Chicago area, Copeia, Vol. 1954, pg. 300
  • 978 - Thompson, E.L., Gates, J.E., Taylor, G.J., 1980, Distribution and breeding habitat selection of the Jefferson salamander, Ambystoma jeffersonianum, in Maryland, J. Herpetol., Vol. 14, pg. 113-120
  • 985 - Uzzell, T.M., Jr., 1964, Relations of the diploid and triploid species of the Ambysoma jeffersonianum complex (Amphibia, Caudata), Copeia, Vol. 1964, pg. 257-300
  • 988 - Wacasey, J.W., 1961, An ecological study of two sympatric species of salamanders, Ambystoma maculatum and Ambystoma jeffersonianum, in southern Michigan, Ph.D. Diss., Michigan State Univ., East Lansing, UNPB
  • 995 - Wilson, R.E., 1976, An ecological study of Ambystoma maculatum and Ambystoma jeffersonianum, Ph.D. Diss., Cornell Univ., Ithaca, N.Y., UNPB
  • 1009 - Bishop, S.C., 1943, Handbook of Salamanders, 555 pgs., Comstock Publ. Co., New York, NY
  • 1014 - Martof, B.S., Palmer, W.M., Bailey, J.R., Harrison, III J.R., 1980, Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia, 264 pgs., UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 2936 - Anderson, J.D., Graham, R.E., 1967, Vertical migration and stratification of larval Ambystoma, Copeia, Vol. 1967, pg. 371-374
  • 3913 - Uzzell, T.M., Jr., 1964, Relations of the diploid and triploid species of the Ambystoma jeffersonianum complex (Amphibia, Caudata), Copeia, Vol. 1964, pg. 257-300
  • 3914 - 1973, Ambystoma jeffersonianum (temp. title), Committee on rare and endangered reptiles of Maryland


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